The New York Times “conducted scores of interviews and reviewed hundreds of documents” for a long article about the Notre-Dame fire. It started with a human error: when a fire warning light flashed, the guards checked the wrong building. As a result, the fire department was not called for half an hour. When firefighters arrived, shortly before 7pm, the cathedral was engulfed.
After an hour of battling the flames, the spire fell. At 8.30 Jean-Claude Gallet, head of the Paris fire brigade, told officials including President Macron: “In 20 minutes, I’ll know if we’ve lost it.” In other words, Notre-Dame could have collapsed, the northern tower falling first and bringing the south tower down too. It was saved by the bravery of a few firefighters.
“Master Sgt Rémi Lemaire, 39, suggested that they could go up the stairs in the southern tower … from there, the firefighters could enter the blazing northern tower” over a purpose-built platform. He recalled: “We were at first reluctant to go because we weren’t sure we’d have an escape route.”
One group of firefighters refused to go, before another said they would try. In “15 decisive minutes”, with the floor threatening to collapse and the bells threatening to crash onto them, they succeeded. General Jean-Marie Gontier, who was managing the front lines, “went up on the balcony of Notre-Dame to inspect the situation. ‘She is saved,’ he declared as he descended.”
Mgr Patrick Chauvet, the cathedral rector, reflected: “This is all about our fragility … in respect to God. We are nothing but creatures.”
The Church and Duterte’s drug war
“In the Philippines,” wrote Adam Willis at the Virginia Quarterly Review, “the Church has emerged as the most prominent voice of dissent against a drug war that has claimed, by some estimates, more than 20,000 lives.”
President Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown had been pursued with horrendous violence: “Manila’s slums … have become killing fields. Police impunity is rampant and flagrant, compounding the horrors of extrajudicial killings.”
Some Catholics, including bishops, had spoken out. But the Church was “under perpetual assault from a president intent on contesting the very essence of Philippine Catholicism”.
Duterte had cursed the Pope, blasphemed against God and the saints, and “beckoned his countrymen into an ‘Iglesia ni Duterte’ (a ‘Church of Duterte’)”. But many Catholics admired him: “For many, his anticlerical language simply reinforced an anti-establishment persona.”
Why a ‘secular church’ declined
In 2013, a secular church called the Sunday Assembly started in Britain. It had songs, talks and coffee afterwards. It was “heavily covered” by the media, wrote Faith Hill at the Atlantic, and spread to other countries. But nearly half the chapters “have fizzled out”, Hill wrote. The psychologist Ada Norenzayan points out that what makes communities durable is “challenging rituals and taxing rules” – but only “when they’re part of something sacred”.