The world watched in horror and grief on Monday as Notre-Dame Cathedral burned, her lead-covered wood roof and majestic spire collapsing into red flames as Parisians sang hymns on roads and bridges. Some 13 million people annually enter the cathedral. I have been one of those awe-struck visitors on several occasions.
Notre-Dame is an exquisite example of French Gothic architecture and an unforgettable symbol of Paris, with its beautiful rose windows, flying buttresses and rib vault. Lost in the news of the past few days is the fact that Notre-Dame is foremost a place for worship, particularly for Catholic Christians.
Today is Good Friday and Easter is this Sunday. I will join with Christians worldwide in celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus. Notre-Dame’s fire makes this Good Friday even more poignant and Easter even more moving.
This evening is also the start of Passover, with eight days of celebration and remembrance by Jews of their liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt. Some of my most memorable experiences as president have been as a guest of the Lubavitch Chabad Jewish Student & Community Center at UF and UF Hillel for Passover Seder meals.
Next month, starting with the evening of May 5, Muslims on campus and worldwide will begin Ramadan, the most sacred month of the year in the Islamic calendar dedicated to fasting, sacrifice, remembrance, family and spiritual growth to become closer to Allah.
I am sometimes asked why on occasion I mention religion, prayer or my own personal faith. Some find it curious and others are even upset. When I am introduced as a speaker for an event, it is sometimes noted that I have a Master of Divinity degree, in addition to graduate degrees in engineering, which the introducer often finds puzzling.
It is important that universities be places where members of all religions, as well as agnostics and atheists, feel welcome and comfortable talking about what they find meaningful while also working to listen and understand those with differing traditions and views. For some, this is part of their studies, and for many this occurs outside of the classroom.
I encourage all members of our community to celebrate their personal faith or beliefs and to support those who have different beliefs or no faith. I hope that I can, in some small way, be an example in this area.
As we near the end of the semester, I pray that all UF students, faculty and staff will have the stamina and clarity to finish with both great success and joy. If you are graduating, I look forward to celebrating with you at commencement, and if you are continuing at UF, I wish for you a wonderful summer.