As the world watched in sadness, Paris’ famed Notre Dame Cathedral was engulfed in flames last April.* Grief flooded the hearts of many more than just French citizens. Almost simultaneously, donation promises flooded in as well.
But what has become of those promised funds since the tragic fire? As of mid-June, the billionaire French donors who publicly pledged huge, flashy donations totaling hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild had not given a penny. Church officials reported that instead, it was mainly American citizens footing the bills. Donations received through the charitable foundation Friends of Notre Dame de Paris (FNDP) paid salaries for up to 150 workers employed by the cathedral after the fire. In June, FNDP handed over the first payment for the reconstruction. It amounted to about $4.1 million.
“The big donors haven’t paid. Not a cent,” says Andre Finot, senior press official at Notre Dame. He noted that those donors were unwilling to hand off control of the end result. Nor were they interested in supporting cathedral employees during the cleanup. “They want to know what exactly their money is being spent on and if they agree to it before they hand it over, and not just to pay employees’ salaries,” Finot says.
Almost $1 billion was promised by some of France’s richest and most powerful families and companies. Some tried outbidding others in the days after the inferno. Critics claimed the wealthy only wanted to be immortalized in the edifice’s fabled stones. But individuals—such as those donating through the Friends foundation—sought no such recognition. Thousands dropped modest contributions into the fundraising coffers. They simply want to preserve the church’s heritage.
Owners of companies and brands including Gucci, Saint Laurent, Louis Vuitton, Dior, and L’Oréal made pledges. But while the day-to-day work at Notre Dame continues, those financial powerhouses debate contracts and haggle over reconstruction plans. FNDP president, Michel Picaud, estimates that 90% of its donations have come from American individuals and smaller businesses.
Picaud testifies that Americans donate out of love for the cathedral and its history. Of the big donors who are withholding their contributions, several reasoned in official statements that their delays were to ensure plans were consistent with their companies’ particular vision.
Jesus once sat observing donors to His temple’s work. Some put in big sums. But He praised a woman who gave only a pittance—two copper coins. It wasn’t the amount that mattered to Him. God values cheerful giving that comes from trusting Him and not a desire to control the results for personal gain. (Luke 21:1-4; 2 Corinthians 9:7)
* See also: