TAMPA, Fla. — Father Justin Paskert didn’t even realize the major milestone being marked at Notre Dame cathedral when he was planning his trip.
Paskert, who is a priest at the Catholic Student Center at the University of South Florida in Tampa, said his 2013 visit just happened to coincide with the historic cathedral’s 850th anniversary celebrations.
“I made arrangements as a priest to celebrate a Sunday mass,” Paskert said, describing the “humbling” experience.
“There I am, just some yokel from Florida, who shows up in the middle of all of it, celebrating mass there.”
On Monday, like so many others across the globe, Paskert could only watch in disbelief as a building that survived eight centuries of plague, revolution and war burned.
"Just think about how many traumatic events in history that building has lived through,” he said. “You just hope some of it is salvageable.”
Flames shot out of the roof behind the nave of the cathedral, among the most visited landmarks in the world. The fire comes less than a week before Easter amid Holy Week commemorations.
Taylor Molitierno of Wimauma said when she moved to Paris at age 21 to finish her dance degree she found her faith inside the cathedral.
“I oftentimes found myself attending mass at Notre Dame,” she told 10News. “That really was a place I could find rest and comfort and peace being so far away from home."
Though the building’s landmark towers have been spared and several priceless, religious relics inside—including the crown of thorns—have reportedly been rescued, the damage inside has been done.
People like Paskert thank God to still have the memories.
"You know, feeling fortunate that I even got to see it,” he said. “I never had the thought Notre Dame wouldn't be there for me to see it."
The Paris prosecutors' office says investigators are treating the blaze as an accident for now.
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