Houstonians reflect on Notre Dame Cathedral's influence

By Andy Cerota - Anchor/Reporter, Brandon Walker - Reporter, Sophia Beausoleil - Reporter

HOUSTON - “This is terrible. I feel my guts are wrenching,” the Rev. Ted Baenziger, of the University of St. Thomas, said Monday after learning of the destructive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

The images of the fire are haunting.

One of Paris’ most famous landmarks, the shining symbol for Catholics all over the world, was nearly reduced to ashes after a colossal fire that is now under investigation.

“The history, the prayerfulness -- for me, it's the center of worship,” Baenziger said.

Once a week for 10 years, Baenziger conducted tours of Notre Dame in English, Spanish and French.

“My job was to explain the spiritual and divine aspects of the cathedral, not just the architecture,” Baenziger said.

He said one of his fondest memories is from last summer when he held Sunday Mass at Notre Dame. It was a true privilege, he said.

“To be there with people from all nations, because it's a universal cathedral, is a very uplifting event,” Baenziger said.

What moved him most was the music.

“The echoes inside of the Gothic cathedral really carry the music upwards toward heaven,” Baenziger said.

Architectural influence

The cathedral not only has a large significance for Catholics but also has a big influence when it comes to architecture.

"Next to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, it's so iconic," said John Casbarian, a professor of architecture at Rice University.

Casbarian also founded Rice Architecture Paris, which is a program that brings Rice students to the City of Lights for a semester of study.

Notre Dame Cathedral plays a major role in what students study.

"This is the greatest example of French Gothic architecture," Casbarian said. "The greatest thing about it is that you walk into the cathedral and it's the most uplifting space you can imagine."

The space is now gutted by fire. The cathedral's wooden frame was reduced to kindling as the world watched history go up in smoke.

"A real historic heritage, not only for France, but the world of architecture will mourn the loss of such a great monument," Casbarian said. 

Locals who recently visited Paris are saddened by the fire

Here in Houston, we have such an international community with ties all over the world. KPRC2 reporter Sophia Beausoleil visited a French cafe and met a husband and wife who say they've spent a lot of time in Paris and were saddened by what they saw on the news Monday.

People in Paris and around the world watched in horror as one of the world's most treasured cathedrals burned for several hours.

"I cried. I've been crying a lot," said Maria Baizan, who visited France. 

Baizan and her husband visit a Houston French cafe in Rice Village once a week to have a taste of the country they love so much. Baizan's husband studied engineering in Paris and visits multiple times a year -- and even taught their children how to speak French. So seeing the Notre Dame Cathedral in flames was heartbreaking. 

"For us, it was a very important church that we visited very often, every time we went to Paris," Baizan said. 

Hundreds of firefighters worked to save the 13th-century structure. 

According to the Paris fire chief, crews were able to stop the fire from spreading, but not before it caused the iconic spire to fall and the cathedral's roof to collapse. 

The fire is even more shocking since it's the Holy Week for Catholics and Christians observing the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

"I'm sad because I think this is going to be very devastating fire," Baizan said. 

Prosecutors believe the fire was an accident and may have started amid a renovation project at the cathedral.

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