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After Notre Dame Fire, Parisians Mark Easter Elsewhere

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

There's much debate in France over restoring the historic Notre Dame Cathedral, which caught fire Monday. And plans are in the works to rebuild, but for now, the fragile structure is off-limits. So today, the local community attended Easter Mass at another church in central Paris. This follows five months of anti-government yellow vest protests in the French capital, including yesterday's clashes between police and demonstrators. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports from today's Easter Mass.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHOIR OF NOTRE DAME: (Singing in foreign language).

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: "Agnus Dei" - lamb of god - sung by the choir of Notre Dame - not in its regular home, but at Saint-Eustache, the church standing in for the cathedral today. The archbishop of Paris, Monsignor Michel Aupetit, celebrated Easter Mass. Regine du Boisbaudry, a Saint-Eustache parishioner with her two young children and husband, says they were stunned by the Notre Dame fire.

REGINE DU BOISBAUDRY: It's a real disaster for us, and we're happy here to welcome all the Catholic family of Notre Dame - and to welcome everyone from all over the world, of course.

QUIST-ARCTON: Du Boisbaudry runs a legal translation company with her husband. After discussing Notre Dame, we turned to the current political situation in France - the yellow vest protests on the streets yesterday in continuing demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron. She said she gets the legitimate grievances of the protesters about social inequalities and poverty.

DU BOISBAUDRY: Macron - it's - that's very, very, very important. He must respond to their demand very, very urgently - the yellow vest, yeah. And he must understand that it is his priority first, and after, of course, Notre Dame. It's another part of our history.

QUIST-ARCTON: Tear gas is floating towards us from the Place de la Republique - the republic square - where yellow vest protesters...

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

QUIST-ARCTON: Did you hear that? Another tear gas canister. Riot police in full gear are standing between the yellow-vesters and onlookers.

The air was thick with smoke as protesters clashed with riot police, who also fired stun grenades. Caroline Camus told NPR she's fully engaged, and she said everyone, including Macron, should understand there's deep-seated anger in France.

CAROLINE CAMUS: It's time to speak. It's time to pray a lot because it's in the heart of people, this hunger. You understand?

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

CAMUS: You understand?

QUIST-ARCTON: More tear gas.

CAMUS: And it's time to move for the citizens, for the republic.

QUIST-ARCTON: Camus says she hopes Macron gets that. The French leader is due to address the nation Thursday in a speech delayed since the evening of the Notre Dame fire Monday. The fleeting solidarity and feeling of unity among the French this past week is vanishing. Reality is staring Macron in the face.

But last night, the focus was again on the cathedral. A national concert featuring singers and celebrities was held to raise more funds for Notre Dame. Popular French singer Slimane's interpretation of Jacques Brel’s song, "When We Only Have Love" (ph), hit the spot - togetherness. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.

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