The burning of the historic Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday night caused an anguish that reverberated around the world. For so many, including former First Lady Michelle Obama, it felt like a personal loss.
“Notre Dame will be rebuilt,” Obama, 55, said in Paris on Tuesday. She was speaking to some 20,000 fans who had gathered for her talk, which was part of an international book tour for her mega-hit memoir, Becoming.
After urging the crowd to be united and maintain faith, Obama explained that she arrived in Paris the day before and found out about the devastating fire from her driver.
Later that day, she attended a dinner cruise and was disturbed by the updates she received from chef Alain Ducasse, who was monitoring the news on his phone. (Their planned sightseeing tour was rerouted because traffic on the Seine was cut off by firefighters who needed the water to fight the fire gutting the historic church.)
Even as she mourned with France, Obama thought about her own personal memories of the 856-year-old cathedral, which is visited by millions every year.
Paris, she explained, “was my first international experience as a little girl.”
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“This was the first time I got on a plane with a passport, away from home and I remember going to the cathedral as a child,” Obama told the audience. She recounted fond memories of eating French food and staying in a youth hostel.
“That trip meant the world to me,” she continued. “And then to be able to come back and share it with my family as the first family. The warmth, the hospitality, all of that came rushing through my mind.”
On Monday, she also shared more of her affection for Notre Dame on Twitter.
“The majesty of Notre Dame—the history, artistry, and spirituality—took our breath away, lifting us to a higher understanding of who we are and who we can be,” she wrote, remembering her trip to the cathedral with her husband, then-President Barack Obama.
“Being here in Paris tonight, my heart aches with the people of France,” she continued. “Yet I know that Notre Dame will soon awe us again.”
Mrs. Obama is one of many high-profile people who have posted tributes to Notre Dame, a treasured example of medieval Gothic architecture. So far, thousands of people and institutions have donated about $950 million to rebuild the cathedral, according to the New York Times.
“Notre Dame is our history, it’s our literature, it’s our imagery,” French President Emmanuel Macron told citizens on Monday, according to CNN. “It’s the place where we live our greatest moments, from wars to pandemics to liberations … I’m telling you all tonight — we will rebuild this cathedral together. This is probably part of the French destiny.”