April 16, 2019 / 9:28 PM / 4 months ago

Notre-Dame's ashes spark renewed push to rebuild torched Louisiana churches

(Reuters) - The worldwide resolve to restore France’s fire-devastated Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral provided an unexpected boost on Tuesday to a more modest campaign to rebuild three predominantly black churches in Louisiana that were torched in recent weeks.

With help from some high-profile personalities on social media, including former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, the fund-raising drive for the Louisiana churches saw a spike in donations since late Monday.

Pledges to a GoFundMe campaign launched by the Seventh District Baptist Association in Louisiana six days ago jumped to more than $470,000 on Tuesday afternoon, quadruple the level less than 24 hours earlier, said Reverend Freddie Jack, the association’s president.

“It’s overwhelming,” Jack said by phone. “All I can say is that God is in the plan and he’s doing his thing.”

The plight of the churches received renewed attention since the fire at Notre-Dame broke out on Monday, with French President Emmanuel Macron promising to rebuild the historic cathedral as more than 750 million euros ($845 million) was pledged for the effort in the ensuing 24 hours. {nL5N21Y5KP]

The three Louisiana churches - St. Mary Baptist Church, Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church - in St. Landry Parish, a county about 60 miles (97 km) west of Baton Rouge, burned down between March 26 and April 4.

Holden Matthews, 21, a white resident and son of a sheriff’s deputy in St. Landry Parish, was arrested last week and charged with three counts of simple arson on religious buildings.

On Monday, three hate crimes charges were added against him in connection with the fires, multiple media outlets reported.

While investigators were still exploring motives when they initially charged Matthews, authorities said he had “a relationship with a type of music called black metal,” an extreme subgenre of heavy metal. Black metal has an association with church burnings in other parts of the world, they said.

Clinton directed her 24.4 million Twitter followers to the GoFundMe campaign. “As we hold Paris in our thoughts today, let’s also send some love to our neighbors in Louisiana,” Clinton posted.

The GoFundMe campaign has a goal of $1.8 million.

Reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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