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By Christopher Brennan
PARIS – The most solemn day of the Catholic calendar was marked by French believers Friday in the shadow of Notre Dame Cathedral, just days after the beloved Parisian landmark was ravaged by fire.
Archbishop Michel Aupetit spoke to believers along a bridge near Notre Dame for the stations of the cross, a ritual which recounts Jesus’s road to crucifixion, the archbishop drew parallels between Monday’s devastating fire and Good Friday.
“In front of Notre Dame our church damaged by the violence of flames, we enter the descent of lord Jesus and the descent to death,” he said.
The Crown of Thorns, a precious relic held at the cathedral that was saved by firefighters, was originally supposed to part of Friday’s ceremony, but was withheld for security reasons, according to the Diocese of Paris.
Hundreds gathered on the path along the Seine for Friday’s procession with the fire-damaged cathedral serving as a solemn backdrop.
Ursula Gauffre, a 55-year-old Catholic from the Paris suburbs who was at the ceremony, said that she had been at Notre Dame only one day before the fire for Palm Sunday and watched on TV as the church burned.
“It’s horrible. I am at Notre Dame very often but have never been there for Easter, and we said we’d do it next time, though now we don’t know when the next time will be,” she told NBC News.
With Holy Week coming to a close Saturday and Easter approaching, those gathered expressed hope for the historic church’s reconstruction.
Monseigneur Patrick Chauvet, the rector of Notre Dame, told reporters after the ceremony that he had originally believed the cathedral would be lost when he saw the extent of the fire but he’s now hopeful for the future.
“This morning I was with all the architects in the cathedral, very damaged, and they said monseigneur; I assure you that it will be even more beautiful,” he said.
Attendee Patricia Calvi said that she goes to the ceremony every year, and that it does not matter where the service is held.
“Fire can touch the building but the faith is something remains untouchable,” she said.
French President Emmanuel Macron has said that he wants to rebuild the cathedral within five years, though building experts have cast doubt on whether that ambitious plan is possible.
France has taken up debate on how it will go about rebuilding, with decisions about what materials to use, design, and who will foot the bill. The cause of the blaze remains unknown.
The events of Holy Week usually held at Notre Dame continued at other churches, with a Friday night ceremony being moved to nearby Saint Sulpice.