Thousands Donate to Rebuild Burned Black Louisiana Churches Amid Notre Dame Fundraising Efforts

The massive effort to rebuild Paris’ historic Notre Dame Cathedral after Monday’s devastating fire is well-funded. With that, thousands have been inspired to donate to the repair of three historically Black churches recently burned in Louisiana in a sting of hate crimes.

The Seventh District Baptist Association set up a GoFundMe page nearly a week ago to help fund repairs for St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, plus Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, both in Opelousas.

However, after initially raising $150,000 for the repairs, according to CNN, the fundraiser skyrocketed to more than $1.1 million as thousands donated in the wake of the Notre Dame fire.

“It’s a blessing,” said Rev. Gerald Toussaint, pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, according to CNN. “It’s going to help our community. What the devil meant for bad, God’s going to turn it into something good.”

The fires in St. Landry Parish, near Lafayette, began March 26 when St. Mary Baptist Church was set ablaze. About a week later, on April 2 and 4, Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church caught fire, the Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s Office said then.

Holden Matthews, the 21-year-old son of St. Landry’s Parish Sheriff’s deputy Roy Matthews, has pleaded not guilty to three hate crime charges, two counts of simple arson of a religious building and one count of aggravated arson of a religious building, CNN reported. In response to PEOPLE’s request for comment, Matthews’ attorney, Quincy Cawthorne, says, “There’s no statement at this time.”

State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said during a recent press conference that Matthews’ purported interest in “black metal” music, a sub-genre of heavy metal music that has been associated with church burnings, may have played a role in the arson. He often expressed his disdain for Black Baptist Christians on Facebook, according to CNN.

More than 20,000 people have donated to rebuild and repair the churches after social media users highlighted the campaign amid fundraising efforts for the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral.

The fires echo similar incidents when the burning of Black churches was used as an intimidation tactic during the civil rights era. Attacks on Black churches, using fire and other forms of violence, have long been used to intimidate the Black community and impede progress.

Donations have been flooding in to rebuild the 856-year-old Paris church after it was nearly gutted by the blaze Monday evening. As of Tuesday evening local time, over €700 million (around $790 million) had been raised for the project. Three of France’s wealthiest families are spearheading the monetary effort.

The Catholic church is a world-famous landmark for the French capital, second only to the Eiffel Tower, and has been a center of religious and cultural life for centuries.

The White House announced that the U.S. would offer “assistance in the rehabilitation of this irreplaceable symbol of Western civilization,” The Hill reported. This sparked criticism, as many pointed out Trump’s lackluster response to Puerto Rico, which is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma’s devastation in 2017. Others criticized the decision as they noted the contamination of water in Flint, Michigan, following 2015 revelations that the water was not treated for corrosion, which resulted in widespread lead poisoning.

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