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No Christmas Service At Notre Dame

NOEL KING, HOST:

For the first time in more than 200 years, Notre Dame Cathedral is silent on Christmas Day.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in non-English language).

KING: Christmas Mass and Christmas Eve services were held at another church nearby. The cathedral is closed after a terrible fire there in April.

Vivienne Walt is an international correspondent for Time magazine. She was at the other service last night. Vivienne, good morning.

VIVIENNE WALT: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So what was the substitute midnight Mass like?

WALT: Well, for anyone who has ever been to midnight Mass in Notre Dame, it was a very, very small, quiet affair with a few hundred people - very moving nonetheless. And this is a beautiful, old - what they call a royal chapel hundreds of years old. And right next to the priest, in fact, was one of the most famous treasures from Notre Dame, which, amazingly, had survived the fire intact - the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, a 14th century sculpture that was really - had pride of place in the cathedral until the April 15 fire.

KING: So people got a little reminder of Notre Dame. That's very nice. You talked to people last night who were at the Mass. One of them, I know, was a man named Caesar Jurgis (ph). And here's what he had to say.

CAESAR JURGIS: It's a regular Christmas Mass, but it's still here. Yeah. It's hope. It's hope because it's going to be rebuilt. I mean, speaking of Notre Dame, it's going to be better than it was.

KING: I'm amazed because he sounds so hopeful. And I wonder - was that the attitude of most people that you spoke to - and most people in Paris, actually, because this is a city landmark?

WALT: I think that people are sure that eventually, Notre Dame will reopen. And I think one of the smart things that President Macron did immediately after the fire was set a deadline for it to reopen. And his deadline was actually very ambitious. It was five years, 2024. He wants it reopened in April on the fifth anniversary of the fire. That would also allow it to be open during the Paris Olympics, which would be that summer. And that really got people moving in a big hurry. They also have managed to raise $1 billion, which is really extraordinary for the cathedral that had been really struggling to raise enough money just for the barest kind of upkeep.

So in theory, they are on their way. There are a lot of political power battles going on, quite standard here in France. But I think that there will be delays of that kind. But once they iron those out and get some kind of protocol as to how to do the renovation, they should be able to at least get the roof rebuilt, the spire re-erected and reconstructed and have some kind of Mass by April of 2024, if not open the entire cathedral again.

KING: April 2024 - wow. And I was reading this morning that it has been 200 years since there hasn't been a Christmas Mass at Notre Dame. What was the reason 200 years ago? I'm curious.

WALT: Well, you know, amazingly, the only real crisis that Notre Dame has had during its 856 years of standing in the middle of Paris was the French Revolution, when the revolutionaries basically ransacked the cathedral and went off - or slashed paintings and what they saw as symbols of the royal families.

KING: Another difficult time, yeah.

Time magazine's foreign correspondent Vivienne Walt from Paris. Thanks so much.

WALT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.