Tears for Notre-Dame; Few for Sri Lanka

Do Catholics mourn sacred buildings more than each other? You will likely shout a dismissive “No! Of course not!” Nevertheless, the question occurs to me witnessing the significant contrast between the way Catholics have responded to the Notre-Dame fire and, within a week, the Sri Lanka massacre. While money floods in from around the world for the rebuilding of Notre-Dame, there is no such spontaneous rush to contribute to the lives of maimed and mourning Christians in Sri Lanka.


Men carrying a casket to the grave
Burial of a victim in Negombo, which received the deadliest of the 8 coordinated blasts.

In great measure, veneration of Notre-Dame arises from reverence for symbols and abstractions. Rodin exalted the “living stones” of France’s historic cathedrals in a metaphor that came naturally to a sculptor. His love of architectural form—particularly that of Gothic art—was as voluptuous as his love of women. And as earthly.

But Rodin’s seductive image misleads. Our response to these two grievous events must be as Christians first, not lovers of monuments or disciples of material artifacts of Christendom. These are insensate, as immune to agony as to the prayers said among them. For Christians, devotion to the lived life of individuals precedes the worth of sign systems in stone, however magnificent. The wounds of Notre-Dame, in themselves, are nothing against the suffering of Sri Lankan Christians—the living who carry their dead to the grave.


Two grave diggers filling a grave.
Grave diggers at work after the blasts.

After the Easter Sunday massacre, Roger McCaffrey, founder of Catholic Media Apostolate, made a committment to collect money for the families of the Sri Lankan victims. He is a long-time friend and correspondent with Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo and a revered figure in Sri Lanka. He writes:

Almost all [parishioners] are totally impoverished to begin with. Your donation will be banked here by our non-profit, Catholic Media Apostolate. We will send it dollar-for-dollar to Cardinal Ranjith to distribute to victim families as he sees fit. I’ve talked to him in Rome too many times to count; and he has my full trust. He will know exactly how to get your gift swiftly to the devastated families. He is out visiting these people each and every Sunday.

Roger notes that over the thirteen years of their acquaintance, the cardinal has never sought a single donation of any kind. Nor is he asking for one now. This call for compassionate contributions comes from CMA, not from the cardinal. And not a dime of it will be siphoned off to meet the necessary bureaucratic needs of charitable organizations.

CMA is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit. You will receive a receipt for tax purposes. If you wish to donate, send a check made payable to Catholic Media Apostolate, P.O. Box 1209, Ridgefield, CT 06877. Simply put the words “Sri Lanka” on the check.

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I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write: From henceforth blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. (Apoc. 14:13) Stay awhile with death. We cheat it of purpose in the rush to repair art’s pretensions to immortality. Mourn first for the dead. Leave the building for later.