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Pope prays for 'architectural gem of our memory'

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Pope Francis

Pope Francis

REUTERS

Pope Francis

Pope Francis has offered his prayers that Notre Dame, the "gem of a collective memory", will once again be a shrine to the Catholic faith, a symbol of the French nation and a spiritual and architectural gift to humanity.

In a heartfelt note of condolences sent to Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit, Francis said yesterday that the fire was particularly devastating given that it came during Holy Week, the sombre days leading up to Easter.

"This catastrophe has gravely harmed a historic building," Francis wrote.

Convictions

"But I am aware that it has also affected a national symbol dear to the heart of Parisians and all French people in the diversity of their convictions. Because Notre Dame is the architectural gem of a collective memory, a place of gathering for great events, a witness of the faith and prayer of Catholics in the heart of the city."

Francis praised the firefighters' courage (inset left) and invoked his blessings on the nation.

Meanwhile, the Vatican's culture minister Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi gave a press conference with his personal reflection on the cathedral.

He noted it was a place where both believers and non-believers were drawn to its beauty and in some cases, such as the 19th century French poet Paul Claudel, were converted to Catholicism as a result.

He also suggested that the Vatican's art experts could play a role in rebuilding.