This week the tragic fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral was juxtaposed with the House Resources Committee field hearing on the damage oil and gas drilling is doing to our own priceless American cultural heritage in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. At Notre Dame, the stories of the heroism shown by Father Jean-Marc Fournier who guided firefighters through the labyrinth inside the historic building to save as much precious art and as many religious artifacts as possible, including sacred objects such as the crown of thorns said to have been worn by Jesus, the tunic of Saint Louis and a piece of wood and a nail believed to have been part of the cross used in the crucifixion. The Father and the firefighters had help as workers from the City of Paris and the Cathedral formed a “human chain” to ferry artworks out of the building as quickly as possible. Father Fournier ultimately went back into the knave of the church as the fire became much more dangerous and retrieved the Blessed Sacrament and said one last benediction for the church.
Here at home, Pueblo Indians Council of Governors Chairman E. Paul Torres was battling to save a historic landmark for his people, who have lived and worshiped in the area inside and surrounding Chaco Culture National Historic Site in New Mexico for more than a thousand years. Like Notre Dame, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Trump Administration intends to allow oil and gas drilling within a buffer zone of the Historic Site that was created by President Obama to protect additional cultural resources outside its boundaries. Torres testified to Congress this week requesting that Congress put pressure on the Department of Interior to block the oil and gas leases proposed — and unlike the fire — this threat is happening on purpose. The loss of either of these World Heritage sites would be a tragedy of unspeakable proportions. We salute these men who are unselfishly dedicated to preserving them.