Connecticut’s Craig Stapleton, the former U.S. ambassador to France, said he expects that Americans will rally to help Paris recover from the devastating fire at its world famous Notre Dame Cathedral.
The Greenwich resident expressed disbelief and sorrow over Monday’s massive blaze, which destroyed the 900-year-old church’s spire, roof and iconic stained glass windows during Holy Week.
Stapleton was the envoy to France for President George W. Bush, to whom he is related through his marriage to Bush’s second cousin, Debbie Walker Stapleton.
“Americans have sort of prided ourselves on being the best friends of France in good times and bad times and through two World Wars," Stapleton told the Courant. “After the Vatican, I think it’s the most important church in Europe. For the French, this is a devastating blow.”
Stapleton said you don’t have to be a Catholic to understand how sacred Notre Dame is to the French and visitors from all over the world.
“You can’t walk into that church as a non-Catholic and not have reverence for the place,” said Stapleton, who was ambassador from 2005 to 2009. “It took 100 years to build it.”
Stapleton said he often reminds people about the time-tested bond between the U.S. and France. He said he often asks others if they know how many troops the U.S. sent to France during World War I, which ended in 1918.
“We sent 2 million Americans to France in World War I,” said Stapleton, adding that those sacrifices are often overshadowed by D-Day landings at Normandy during World War II.
Debbie Walker Stapleton said it’s a shock, considering that Notre Dame withstood the Crusades, the Napoleonic Wars and two World Wars.
“It’s such a symbol of France to so many people,” she said. “It humbles the visitor to walk in this magnificent building.”
She said scores of people have contacted her by email to say how upset they are and to offer help.
“I am confident the goodness in Americans will help rebuild this magnificent cathedral,” she said.