Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

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The steeple and spire collapses as smoke and flames engulf the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images

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Paris streets filled with young people singing, praying, processing in a sign of faith and hope after fire

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

April 17, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Several thousand Parisians, mostly young people, processed through the streets of the Left Bank between Saint-Sulpice and the Place Saint-Michel, close to Notre Dame Cathedral, on Tuesday evening to sing and pray less than 24 hours after the terrible fire destroyed the nave’s roof and its 700-year-old wooden frame.

Their procession was led by a banner of Saint Clotilde, the queen of France who obtained the conversion and baptism of King Clovis and many hundreds of his men somewhere between 496 and 506, an event that has earned France the name of “Eldest daughter of the church.”

The following two-and-one-half hour, originally live-streamed video presents a full record of this moving event amazingly conducted by mostly young Parisians. To more quickly advance through the video click on the timeline at various points. At 59 minutes the  full extent of the crowd can be seen as they gather at the Place Saint-Michel, close to Notre Dame Cathedral.

The event was organized in an incredibly short time by the “Veilleurs” movement, a group of witnesses of beauty, civilization and faith in the public square created in the wake of the “Manif pour tous” in 2013. Its founder, Axel Rokvam, was at the heart of this new initiative.

Invitations were sent out during the day via Twitter and Facebook, calling “the French, Christians or simply people who are in love with the cathedral” to gather in front of Saint Sulpice at 8 p.m. They were shared massively and the turnout was much larger than the “Veilleurs” expected. The idea had struck a chord.

The whole event was covered by ABC World News Now. A 2 ½-hour film is available online, showing the other, forgotten, often ignored side of secularized France: students, young professionals, boys and girls alike whose desire is to put God back into society. Despite the chilly weather, they came.

Praying, singing Canticles to the Virgin Mary, their march was a thing of simple and serene beauty that started off to the sung Litanies of Our Lady.

How did they obtain permission to organize these public prayers, occupying the busy streets and the bus lanes of main boulevards of Paris, when public prayers are forbidden apart from traditional religious processions? The shock and the emotion aroused by the fire of Notre Dame is a probable explanation: the powers that be would have been hard pressed to stop the French from expressing not only their attachment to one of the wonders of Christianity, but even more, their faith.

And so all of the ancient names that have been used for centuries to glorify the Mother of God filled the streets of Paris, followed by chanted Ave Marias and canticles that everyone knew, alternating with moments of silence and meditation. Surprised tourists watched and snapped pictures from the chic cafés of the Boulevard Saint-Germain; journalists wondered at the sheer numbers of marchers.

The crowd assembled under the fountain of Saint Michael and its statue of the Archangel bringing down the devil, on the Place Saint-Michel across the Seine from Notre Dame. A white statue of Our Lady of France, Queen of Peace holding up the Child Jesus – a well-known devotion in France – was placed on a makeshift altar under spotlights, visible from all sides. There were flowers and candles, a choir, a violin orchestra of youthful players, and even a piano, as well as a giant screen and loudspeakers that allowed all to hear. A girl climbed up to Saint Michael with a gigantic French flag and stayed there until the end of the vigil.

Hundreds sat down on the square, many hundreds more remained standing around the group, overflowing into the neighboring streets.

“When anguish, danger and doubt, when the night of despair engulf you, if the thought of the Judgment torments you because of the gravity of your sins … Look at the star, invoke Mary: if you follow her, there is nothing to fear,” they sang to the accompaniment of violins.

The very heart of Paris was beating Catholic that night.

“There is an enormous hole in the nave of Notre Dame, and we all have a hole in our hearts,” said one young man. “But it’s in that hole that we open up to God that He can come, and act.”

There were also priests. Father Guillaume de Tanoüarn, of the traditional Institute of the Good Pastor, spoke to the silent crowd. “By hope and by will, all of us here are rebuilders of cathedrals. Think of how much faith was necessary to our French ancestors to build this magnificent Mother of Paris, this cathedral. Think of how much faith it took to erect the ‘Forest’ of wood that burnt yesterday, and how much faith it will take to reconstruct the cathedral, each of us in his own way. You can reconstruct with your hands, and many will be needed … But you can also rebuild with your hearts, with the sacrifices you offer, with your life. We are the contemporaries of this catastrophe. And this catastrophe comes with a lesson, a profound lesson. Just look at the two towers of Notre Dame: Our faith must not be a mere façade. Our faith must be rooted in our very depths, and make us live rightly, of the life of the faith. I believe that in the destruction of Notre Dame there is also a divine message … Perhaps our faith as Christians in the France of 2019 is too much of a mere façade of faith … We need a faith of conquerors, we need to have a faith of builders, we have to be capable of rebuilding Notre Dame through the intensity of our lives. We are not here for a deploration, but because there's something beyond the tears: there is a God-given desire that will lead each and every one of us to be rebuilders of cathedrals in 2019.”

A young woman then invited all to join in saying the words of the consecration to  the Immaculate Virgin of Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort. There, right in the middle of the historic student quarter of Paris, where such things have been so long forgotten.

Texts were read and music played: Paul Claudel, Bach … followed by traditional songs to Mary. A benediction from Archbishop  Aupetit, given by a priest from the diocese of Paris, followed. Then all those who could stay despite the late hour walked in procession toward the esplanade of Notre Dame, where they prayed the rosary on their knees.

The “Veilleurs” have decided to organize perpetual prayers in the square at the foot of the oldest church in Paris, Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, between Saint-Michel and Notre-Dame. Young people have been praying there since Tuesday night, and are still there. As I write, my daughter is messaging me: a crowd of young people has returned to Saint-Michel and they are praying the rosary. Once again the square is full.

For all these young people, many of whom watched their beloved cathedral burning on Monday from the embankment of the Seine with fear in their hearts, hope has taken the shape of prayer and confidence in God and His Mother. They are building wholesome memories for the rest of their lives. They have found their rock to lean on, a rock that is more than stones and glass.

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