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Notre Dame Cathedral is a serene rendezvous

When mentioning churches, people might think about priests offering Mass, chorus singing, elderly people praying and children learning Bible lessons. However, when people talk about the Notre Dame Cathedral, which is situated in the heart of HCMC, they will immediately see the image of a familiar rendezvous of people who are catholic or non-catholic, young or old, and rich or poor.

It is easy to spot sidewalk cafes around public places such as post offices, schools, commercial centers and parks and the Notre Dame Cathedral is not an exception. Hence, the church, built by the French between 1863 and 1880 with bricks from Marseille, is one of the most famous landmarks of the city and part of the city’s cultural life. Saigonese often gather on the sidewalks around the church and nearby Park 30/4 to meet, chat, have a cup of coffee, study or simply look at passers-by.

One factor that makes HCMC exceptional is the contrast between the old and the new, the ancient and the modern, the luxury towering building and the old shabby one. The church also has two opposite elements: stillness inside and hustle outside. The interior and exterior of the building is definitely majestic, boasting the glory that any cathedral should have.

The interior can’t be compared to those in Rome or Paris, but there is something to be said for the vaulted ceilings and organization of holy figures around the cathedral. Meanwhile, the exterior is highlighted by the red color of the original bricks from Marseille, the two 40-meter-tall spires that define the skyline of the city and the statue of the Virgin Mary in front, creating a splendid view to admire and a nice background to take photos.

There are many people frequenting small cafés around the cathedral. Early in the morning, while some people still jog, some middle-age men gather at those cafes with morning newspapers in hand.

When the sun rises, Park 30/4 gets busier with students who gather to discuss their home assignments, share soft living skills or draw sketches of the church. Some young people also bring guitars and violins to play and sing together.

The striking thing is not the constant flow of tourists that move in, out, and around the cathedral, but the numerous brides and grooms that are stationed strategically around the church to take wedding photos. Couples with their entourage of photographer, photographer’s assistant, driver, umbrella holder, and backup camera crew have to bear the scorching heat to smile, pose and try hundreds of shots.

When the sunset comes, the area around the cathedral will get crowded. Parents take their kids to play around the statue of the Virgin Mary while some people pray sincerely. In Park 30/4, young people continue to muster to chat, sing, study and enjoy some snack.

If there is no chair left, they would sit anywhere they find suitable. Due to large gatherings around the church, there is an army of vendors offering toys, balloons for children, coffee and drinks for adults, snacks for girls and flowers for boys.

SGT

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