EXCLUSIVE: The conversion of a Paris firefighter during the fire!

Many thanks Matthieu* for your exclusive testimonial for the 7 routes Notre-Dame pilgrimage. We’re sure it will resonate with all our readers and pilgrims. You were involved in the Notre Dame fire and thus played a key role in saving the cathedral.

When you were called out to the fire, it must have affected you, because this is no ordinary intervention?

Some events are indeed life-changing, and I remember exactly what I was doing when I heard the news. I was off duty at the time, but having stayed at the barracks I saw that there was a commotion, the engines kept ringing, so I thought something major must be going on, so I went down to get some news. That’s when I learned that Notre-Dame was burning. But we had no idea how serious the fire was. We had to find volunteers to back us up, so I volunteered because there was a great need for men, for very different positions. Helping comrades already on site to fight the fire, and joining a team dedicated to salvaging works from the treasure room, it took a lot of people, as this was a fire of real intensity. On the way we became aware of the extent of the fire. What particularly struck me at first was the crowd in the street, which slowed our progress through Paris. Parisians went to watch their cathedral burn en masse. When I arrived, I was struck by the sight of so many people on their knees, praying. It was very impressive! They were singing and praying, and we could see they were devastated. They were incredibly close-knit! And it was beautiful. Once again, we realized how serious this was. The immense smoke did not belie our impression. On arrival, the spire was still standing, but when it collapsed, the decision was made to recover the priceless treasure objects. Relics, the crown of thorns, nails from our Lord’s crucifixion, as well as monstrances and other liturgical objects. The cathedral’s curator reminded the firefighters of this, and asked them to save all this, and certain objects as a priority. A whole team of us followed the curator into the treasure room. That in itself is exceptional, so I admit I knew I was in for something special. The aim was to save as many works as possible, in a very careful way. We had CRS guarding the trucks in which we deposited everything.

Did you think about the danger, because this mission was very perilous?

We don’t think about it too much in our profession. It’s part of our daily lives, at different levels of course. We are with our comrades and we must succeed in our mission. But at Notre-Dame it was a little different.

When the fire team pulled Christ’s crown out of the burning cathedral, it must have been a powerful spiritual experience?

This crown includes a thorn that our Lord bore, and for a believer to save it from the flames is something very powerful.

Matthieu, you were telling me when you were preparing for the interview that when you were a child, you used to go to mass, you were even an altar boy. And then seeing all the abominations you can encounter as a firefighter, as well as the pain of people faced with all this suffering, your faith left your heart. You didn’t understand how a God could allow such desolation. Can you tell us about it?

Yes, I let go of everything, I didn’t understand why our Lord was allowing this. I had doubted for many, many years, and on the day of the fire, as astonishing as it may seem, I was seized and came out of the cathedral a convert.

It’s incredible! But how did it happen?

When I entered the cathedral, there was of course a gaping hole in the roof. Opposite me was the altar and that famous cross that I think everyone saw in photos after the fire. This cross shone with all its senses. But be careful! It was NOT lit. She was the one who diffused light. All we could see was her! And I have to admit that I felt a great sense of peace at the time, and I felt I had nothing to fear, because for me it really was the fire of the century! I stood there for 10 or 15 seconds, stunned by this vision… I was in total heart-to-heart with this cross. Then I went back to work. At no time did I feel in danger, and this was a trigger for my reconciliation with our Lord. I had already been prepared by seeing all those faithful praying as I told you at the beginning. I can say now that our Lord’s presence was already there to comfort us. It was a sign from Heaven. God wanted to see how we would behave in this trial. This vision changed my life! Of course I go to mass, several times a week if possible, I’ve started praying again, I watch a lot of films to catch up on a lot of things I haven’t learned during this whole life without our Lord. I’ve also been confirmed, and I’m happy to accompany someone to the catechumenate. But above all I’m much more attentive to our Lord, and see all the signs he sends us through others. My heart is open and I try to give. I’m very happy to give my time to others. I like listening to others because I see that people need to talk, but above all they need to be listened to. It’s not always easy, I have to admit, but it’s really what people need right now.

Your family must have seen this change?

Yes, and it’s wonderful because they’ve followed me in this conversion, my mom is going back to Mass, my loved ones are on the move

Thank you Matthieu* for this beautiful testimony, and thank you for saving our beautiful cathedral with all your comrades!

I’d like to add two more things: you really have to look at this cathedral, which hasn’t collapsed, and see the Church standing tall despite the onslaught of flames. And I’d like to advise your pilgrims to read A Day with Our Lord, because if you read it a little each morning, you’ll see, it brings us a lot. This reading keeps me going. Every morning I start my day with our Lord. Ce n’est pas toujours facile mais j’essaie de bien prendre ce temps. You’ll see how it settles us down and we let it shape us. So don’t hesitate!

*First name has been changed


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