The solemn blessing of the oils during Holy Week for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester Tuesday night took on special meaning as parishioners across the state grappled with the stunning fire at the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris a day earlier.
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Bishop Peter A. Libasci said the hymns played by the choir at Saint Joseph Cathedral opening the Solemn Vespers reminded him of the voices of song from hundreds of onlookers who rushed to the cathedral on Monday, standing outside to offer healing support.
“This enabled people who had seemingly lost everything to gather up the most important thing they have, their faith,” Libasci said.
Therese Bolduc of Manchester was born in France and the family moved to the United States when she was 5.
“My parents brought me to Notre Dame; they had the pictures but of course I was too young to remember,” said Bolduc, who spoke to a reporter before Tuesday’s Mass.
“I noticed right away they had gone in and gotten the sacred host. Jesus was in there and they got him out,” said Bolduc, who works at Ste. Marie’s Church.
Another woman who only gave her name as Marie said she took the tragic fire as a sign.
“Jesus went through great struggle and came back with the resurrection. Notre Dame will come back again stronger than ever,” she said walking up to enter the church.
The Rev. Jason Jalbert, rector of the Saint Joseph Cathedral, had just returned with Bishop Libasci from a visit to the Holy Land.
“The day after is the one in which we assess and we know now that a lot more of the treasures from Notre Dame were saved than might have first been feared,” Rev. Jalbert said.
“There’s a lot of sadness surely, but the Holy Week is about hope and I know we are all praying for the people of Paris and the entire Notre Dame community and know they will recover from this.”
Bishop Libasci said Notre Dame is a magnificent monument and it will rebound, but all churches are built on the strength of their followers.
Earlier in the day, University of New Hampshire French lecturer Emilie Talpin spoke of words of comfort she had received from colleagues about the Notre Dame cathedral fire.
“It really touches a lot of people … when you think of Paris, you think of Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower,” Talpin said. “Those are the two iconic places you think about.”
Talpin was born in Burgundy, France, and moved to the United States when she was 22. She goes back to visit every year, spending time in Paris, where her uncle lives.
She said when she reached out to him Monday, he was devastated.
“He was so upset when it was burning, he said, ‘I don’t even have the heart to see it,’” Talpin said.
In New Hampshire, people shared video and photos of the fire on social media as the cathedral burned Monday, as well as images of Parisians who gathered to sing, weep and pray.
U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, remarked on Twitter that, “The singing outside of Notre Dame today is a reminder of the special kind of communal prayer that song represents. What a beautiful expression of the spirit of Notre Dame.”
Social media was flooded with photos people had taken at Notre Dame. Talpin said she was touched by the connection her American friends felt with the 850-year-old cathedral.
News of the destruction at Notre Dame also hit home for many high school students planning to travel to France for April vacation. In Portsmouth, Steve Marchand said his daughter, Abbi, is leaving for Paris this week with about 12 other students from Portsmouth High School.
“Obviously, we’ve been looking forward to this the whole school year,” Marchand said. “To see this news is just heartbreaking.”
Marchand, whose parents came to Manchester from Quebec, Canada, has served as Portsmouth mayor and has twice been a Democratic primary candidate for governor. He said he spent half a year in France and has been to Notre Dame twice.
“It’s difficult to describe the beauty of it unless you’ve seen it in person,” Marchand said. “I’m not sure there’s anyplace else like it in the world.”
Union Leader Correspondent Kimberley Haas contributed to this report.