Macron visits Notre Dame 2 years after devastating fire

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French President Emmanuel Macron visits the reconstruction site of the Notre-Dame cathedral Thursday, April 15, 2021 in Paris. Two years after a fire tore through Paris' most famous cathedral and shocked the world, French President Emmanuel Macron is visiting the building site that Notre Dame has become Thursday to show that French heritage has not been forgotten despite the coronavirus. (Benoit Tessier/Pool via AP)

PARIS – Two years after a fire tore through Paris’ most famous cathedral and shocked the world, French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday visited the building site that Notre Dame has become to show that French heritage has not been forgotten despite the pandemic.

Flanked by ministers, architects and the retired French army general who is overseeing the restoration of the 12th-century monument, Macron viewed the progress of the ambitious rebuilding project. He offered the pandemic-weary French public hope that a completion date will arrive one day, if not in the near future.

“We're seeing here how, in two years, a huge job has been accomplished,” Macron said, recalling the “emotion” throughout France at the images of flames devouring Notre Dame on April 15, 2019. “We also see what remains to be done.”

Macron has promised that the cathedral would be rebuilt by 2024, yet officials acknowledge the work won’t be fully completed by then. They cite factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic for having slowed down the pace of reconstruction. The blaze also distributed vast amounts of toxic lead onto Notre Dame and the surrounding area, complicating the clean-up work that came before restoration efforts could even begin.

The French president offered a “huge thank you” and a message of determination to all the workers mobilized to rebuild Notre Dame.

“We will need to meet our goals” set for three years from now, Macron said.

Cranes and scaffolding from the massive project scar the French capital's skyline, and the rebuilding work could take decades. Officials said this month that the burned-out cathedral and its esplanade could remain under construction for another 15 or 20 years. But they pledge that Notre Dame will be at least be open for prayer and a “return to worship” in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics, which Paris is hosting.

“The objective...is to return Notre Dame to worshippers and to visits in 2024. That means that in 2024, Mass will be able to be organized in the cathedral,” Jeremie Patrier-Leitus, a spokesperson for the restoration, told The Associated Press.