We knew something had changed shortly after we settled into our Air France seats. Evening odors and sticky humidity were replaced by air conditioning, French accents and fog canisters to kill any insects that may have entered our civilized environment. What a subtle physical contrast between 1st and 3rd world environments. But if we were comparing spiritual life, we were leaving a 1st world environment for our 3rd world home. The faith of our Christian and Muslim friends in Serabu in so inspiring and humbling. Their total life is lived as an open and public relation with God, without apology or political correctness. “It’s YOU and me – thank YOU for the air in my lungs” they pray.
After several hours of dozing and bumping the back of the economy seat in front of me, we make an early Sunday morning landing in Paris France, the City of Lights. We had a twelve hour lay-over so we flagged down Uber and trekked into the city to visit Rue de Bac and Notre Dame. Our timing throughout this trip seemed so fortunate and it began at Rue de Bac, home of St. Catherine Labouré and the Miraculous Metal. “Mass in the chapel begins in 15 minutes” offered a sweet little nun at the welcome window. “And if you first buy a few souvenirs in the gift shop, Father will bless them at the end of mass.” It was a “two-for” and we happily participated in the spiritual bonanza. Mostly we purchased beautiful miraculous metals with a blue transparent cover on the face. The Miraculous Medal was created in response to a request from the Blessed Virgin Mary, dedicated to her Immaculate Heart. It gives extraordinary graces to those who wear it and pray for Mary’s intercession and help. Our Lady manifested the Medal to St. Catherine Labouré on November 27, 1830. St. Catherine Labouré’s incorrupt body is encased near the chapel alter. After mass and gift blessings, Uber dropped us off in front of Notre Dame Cathedral as two of 13 million people that would see it this year. The first impression of Notre Dame is a bit overwhelming just because of its size. Spanning 1 ½ football fields, it will take you nearly 400 steps to get to the top.
Following demolition and clearing of previous structures that were dedicated to St. Stephen, construction of a massive cathedral, dedicated to our Blessed Lady (Notre Dame), began in 1163. Most of the next 200 years were occupied in original design construction while renovation projects have been ongoing to this day. Our brief walking discovery tour canvased the outer interior while mass was being held in the central interior. There are thousands and thousands of stories of famous people, amazing artifacts and historical roles of Notre Dame Cathedral, but we will focus on just one our discoveries: Notre Dame is the custodian of the Jesus’ Crown of Thorns. The Crown is kept at a side alter dedicated to the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a Catholic lay order that today is charged with the task of providing for the needs of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and for activities and initiatives which are necessary to support Christian presence in the Holy Land. Cathy and I are members of this Order and we felt such joy at our Notre Dame encounter which continued to radiate all the way back to the airport. What a great start to our Ride!