On Tuesday, April 16, French president Emmanuel Macron addressed the nation in a televised address that came less than 24 hours after the fire that ravaged Notre-Dame Cathedral was put out.
“Les français, my dear countrymen — the Notre-Dame fire has deeply affected the spirits and hearts of the Parisians, the French, and the whole world,” he began, speaking from behind his desk in the Elysée Palace.
In just under six minutes, Macron used his speech to be consoler-in-chief and to present a unifying message to the French, who lately have been deeply divided over the country’s monthslong gilets jaunes protests. Most significantly, he stated his intention to rebuild the cathedral in just 5 years.
“We are a people of builders,” he assured, speaking quietly but firmly. “So yes, we will make the Notre-Dame Cathedral even more beautiful, and I want it to be done by 5 years from now.” He then immediately affirmed, “We can do it. And for that as well, we will mobilize.”
Throughout the speech, the French president addressed the pain and sadness felt by the French, and more broadly people all around the world, over the cathedral’s sustained damage. He praised the city’s police and the firemen, who extinguished the fire by “taking the most extreme measures.” He spoke of unification.
“Everything that France does, material and spiritual, is alive, and for that reason is fragile, and we shouldn’t forget that. It’s up to us, the français and française of today, to reassure in the long term this grand persistence that makes up the French nation,” he said.
But Macron wasn’t just telling the French to unify over the cathedral — he said they already had. “Parisians comforted each other, the French were shaken emotionally, foreigners cried, journalists wrote, writers dreamed it, photographers showed to the world the horrible images, the rich and less rich alike gave money to charities,” he recounted. “Everyone gave what they could, everyone has a place, everyone has a role.” It was a smart move as both consoler-in-chief and the leader of a country coping with an identity crisis.
His speech was also a reminder that destruction has happened before in France, and the French have overcome. “At the heart of our history, we’ve built cities, ports, churches. Lots have burned, destroyed by war, revolution, the faults of men,” Macron recounted. “Each time, each time, we have rebuilt them. The Notre-Dame fire reminds us that our story never ends, never, and that we will always have challenges to surmount.”
Macron had planned to address the nation Monday night to speak about the end of Le Grand Débat and what he has planned to appease the unsettled French people. He cancelled the speech an hour after the cathedral caught fire. “I will come back to you as I said I would in the next few days so we can react collectively, following our Grand Débat,” said Macron. “But now is not the time.”
He maintained a somber yet optimistic tone throughout the speech. “I believe deeply that we’ll come back to change this catastrophe into an occasion to come together,” he said of the project to rebuild the cathedral.
His final words were simple, emphasizing his goals of sympathizing and unifying: “Français, françaises, and everyone who loves France and Paris, I want to tell you tonight that I share your pain. But I also share your hope. We now have to do. We will take action, and we will succeed. Vive la République and vive la France.”