The Malta Independent 27 May 2019, Monday

TMID Editorial: Let us rebuild not only Notre Dame

Saturday, 20 April 2019, 09:27 Last update: about 2 months ago

From the greatest tragedies the greatest lessons can be imparted.  And if there is perhaps one single lesson to be taken away from the tragic inferno at Paris’ Notre Dame this week, that lesson is that we can truly accomplish grandiose things when our collective grief and shock are turned to action.

Close to €900,000,000 has now been raised for the restoration and reconstruction effort.  Citizens are donating, the French government is offering tax breaks for donors, and some of France’s most affluent businessmen are locked in a donation war.

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Now if big business wants to get into a donation war, let them wage battle because this is the kind of war that the world could do with seeing more of.

But, on the flipside, many are those who have recoiled in horror at the exorbitant amounts that have been raised, and they have demanded such funds be diverted to other causes. 

Much has been said of the legacy and the place of the Notre Dame Cathedral within the collective consciousness.  Notre Dame signifies so much to the French people, to Europe, to Christianity and, in fact, to humanity itself.

It will be rebuilt, it has to be rebuilt and those who would rather the donations be shunned or re-diverted should first of all appreciate that they can do whatever they please with their money, as can the billionaires who have pitched in to the Notre Dame rebuilding effort.  We also say that their outrage would be better channelled to holding such billionaires to account for what they have not donated to in the past, despite their vast resources.

That is because if they can donate hundreds of millions of euros in one fell swoop like this, what has stopped them from doing so, on ant number of scales, for the world’s poor and downtrodden for projects that provide potable water or bring communities out of sustenance farming?

Just to put things into perspective, the €900 million raised for Notre Dame could, in such a context, be compared with the $127 million raised in 1985’s Live Aid for Africa.  Added to that is the fact that the bulk of the Notre Dame donations came from French businesses, which is only natural, but just imagine if we were to somehow captivate the attention of global big businesses and harness their funding power?

Just think of what could be accomplished if the Notre Dame mindset were to be applied to the improvement of the quality of and the preservation of human life.

Billionaires such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have donated large swathes of their fortunes to charity, they have raised the bar both through their individual foundations but jointly though Giving Pledge campaign to encourage wealthy people to contribute a majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes.

The pledge has 187 signatories worth over $365 billion, but then again it does not actually dictate that the money will be spent in any certain way or towards any particular charity or cause, and there is no legal obligation to actually donate any money.

The vast sums raised for Notre Dame have also drawn considerable fire in France itself, where wealth inequality and the plight of the low-income households have been highlighted during five months of demonstrations by ‘yellow vest’ protesters.

Notre Dame will, and must, be rebuilt – for France, for Europe, for Christianity and for humanity. But let is not only rebuild the bricks and mortar of the place, let us also rebuild the ideals that it represents to so many of us, rebuild the way that we look at charity and rebuild the priorities that have shape the world in which we live.

From the ashes of the Notre Dame fire, there could rise a new hope, an inspiration and a new yardstick for charity.  After all, if we can raise that kind of money in a couple days, just think of what could be accomplished if we were to really and truly put our collective mind, and financial power, to it.

Yes let’s rebuild Notre Dame, and let us use that reconstruction effort as an example of how we can rebuild the world in which we live.

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