Praying for Paris: Our pilgrimage to the City of Light

The glow of sunset from the top of the Eiffel Tower (Photos: Patti Murphy Dohn)

After facing some medical challenges this past summer, my husband and I decided that we should cross one of the items off our bucket list. The time was right for a much-anticipated trip to Paris.
Having been there twice before, George was excited to show me the beauty of the City of Light, along with its cathedrals, museums, food, and unparalleled ambience. We enjoyed a wonderful week soaking up the Parisian culture. It was magical. 
The news of Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris hit us hard. Like the rest of the world, we were in shock. Good heavens, we were just there! Lord, have mercy! 
We had been near some of the sites that were hit… 
But last month, by contrast, it was peaceful.

“Mona Lisa” at the Louvre (Photos: Patti Murphy Dohn)

It was a city of charm and grace, a thriving metropolis filled with culture and purpose. 

We saw the signs advertising soccer games at the stadium, as well as Fashion Week events down the street. 
We watched the sites pass as we cruised down the river. 
We gazed at the paintings in the Louvre.
We prayed and lit candles at Notre Dame Cathedral. 
We sipped champagne as the sun set over the City of Light from the top of the Eiffel Tower. 
We ate at their sidewalk cafes and bistros. 
We went to Sunday Mass at Sacré-Cœur on Montmartre.  

The Eiffel Tower from the river cruise on the Seine (Photos: Patti Murphy Dohn)

This past Friday, all that we experienced was shattered for the people of Paris as terror darkened the City of Light. 

As George and I watched the events unfold on all the news channels, we were overcome with worry for the good people of Paris who open their hearts and their city each day, year in and year out, for millions of tourists like us…Those who smiled as we fumbled with French expressions and those who were proud to share their heritage with us and with thousands of tourists from around the world each day.

The beauty of Notre Dame Cathedral (Photos: Patti Murphy Dohn)

Prayers for Paris:
Our prayers have been united since Friday with the local Parisians who worship each week at all the churches we visited… Including Notre Dame Cathedral, the neighborhood church of St. Thomas Aquinas near our hotel, the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Sainte-Chappelle, and the Church of Saint-Sulpice.

After Sunday Mass at the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur on Montmartre

Proclaiming the Light of the World:
Perhaps the most profound of our experiences was at the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur on Montmartre (“the mountain of martyrs”), the highest point of the City of Paris. The name Montmartre is derived from the martyrdom of the patron saint of France, St. Denis, the first bishop of Paris, who was beheaded on this hill around the year AD 250. 
It was truly a pilgrimage to the holy land of the City of Light. The Basilica of Sacré-Cœur (the Sacred Heart) has held uninterrupted, perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament since the year 1885. The Holy Eucharist is exposed in a huge monstrance high above the main altar. The imposing mosaic of Christ in Majesty rises above the monstrance, one of the largest mosaics in the world. 

The mosaic of Christ in Majesty towering over the Blessed Sacrament at the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur 
(Photos: Patti Murphy Dohn)

Where there is darkness, light: 
According to the biography (written in AD 475) of St. Geneviève, the protectress of Paris, we learn that she persuaded local Catholics to build a chapel on the site of Denis’ martyrdom. 
There today, under the watchful eye of the Benedictine Sisters of the Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre who lead the throngs of pilgrims with their sung prayers and liturgical hymns, the spiritual life of the basilica and its surrounding City of Light goes on day in and day out. 
This massive white basilica set high on the hill, a place of prayer, renewal, and peace, sends a message to all who witness its light: 
Jesus, the Light of the World, has come to turn the darkness into light. 
Good will conquer evil. 
And that for which the prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi implores, “where there is darkness, light.”
God bless the City of Paris as they strive to break the bonds of fear and turn their faces back toward the Light.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.