PARIS -- Notre Dame cathedral in Paris was dark and empty on Saturday night, a day when in previous years it filled with crowds for the Easter Vigil mass.
With the cathedral damaged and roofless after Monday night's fire, Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit instead celebrated the vigil at the church of Saint-Sulpice, about a half mile away on the Left Bank of the Seine.
Yet he had words for the stricken cathedral in his sermon, before a crowd that was noticeably smaller than when the vigil mass was celebrated in Notre Dame.
Notre Dame was "the reflection of our history," Aupetit told the congregation. "The history of a people, of a nation, which has been forged down the centuries and has been irremediably marked by its religious history, whose source is the gospel of Jesus Christ."
Sunday's Easter mass was also scheduled to be celebrated in an alternative venue, this time in the Right Bank church of Saint Eustache.
President Emmanuel Macron has said he wants Notre Dame restored in five years' time -- a timescale some experts have said is too ambitious.
Earlier, a cultural adviser to Macron said the debate over the huge donations being pledged to restore Notre Dame should be conducted in a calm and open-minded manner.
"You cannot be shocked by the fact that people feel that the Notre Dame is something that is part of the soul of France," Stephane Bern told broadcaster FranceInfo on Saturday.
Donations have poured in for the restoration of the 850-year-old Paris landmark that was badly damaged in a fire earlier this week.
But the generosity has also faced a backlash, especially against billionaires who have pledged large sums at a time when wealth inequality has become a major issue and many French say they are struggling just to make ends meet.
"I would like to get 2 billion so nobody has to sleep on the street," Bern said.
However, he said people "had been moved by what they saw" and their philanthropy should not be rejected.
He noted that billionaire families have said they would forgo tax breaks on the donations to Notre Dame.
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