Large public gatherings are officially banned in Paris until later this week as part of the state of emergency declared in the aftermath of the terror attacks on Friday that left 129 people dead, but thousands of people gathered on Sunday night at the Notre Dame cathedral to pay their respects to the victims and show solidarity.
"The day after the attack, I was so scared and wouldn't leave my house. But tonight, I knew it was time to come outside and be brave," said Patrick, a 25-year-old from Lebanon studying in Paris. "I hope to become a French citizen one day, and the attacks are terrible beyond belief. Coming here to mourn tonight is a way to grasp what's happened."
For Natasha, a Parisian woman who sat inside for the ceremony, it was the first time she was truly able to grieve over the attacks. "I came here to release the terror and horror I've felt inside for days. We need to be together to get through this together."
Countless memorials have cropped up across the city, as people continuously light candles, lay flowers, and leave messages of hope and anger. The base of the monument at Place de la Republique has become an important memorial site. But Notre Dame was the largest vigil yet, and security was ramped up as police and military officers patrolled the grounds and guarded the entrances as the church's bells tolled in mourning.
Many Parisians say the mood is far more tense in the city than it was in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, when more than three million people marched through the streets alongside world leaders. This time, the slightest inkling of another threat brings about widespread panic. A manhunt for suspected accomplices in the attacks is still ongoing.
Shortly into the ceremony at Notre Dame, rumors of explosions and gunshots near the St. Paul metro station began to circulate. Police stopped letting people in, and many quickly left the area. It turned out to be a false alarm. Earlier in the day, the crowd at the Place de la Republique panicked and fled after hearing the sound of firecrackers.
Later in the day, emotions ran high there again as police grabbed a Bangladeshi man who put a French flag on the monument. They demanded his identity and held him for several minutes to question him. A crowd encircled the scene and people started chanting at the cops to let the young man go. Eventually they did, and the crowd cheered.
One woman, who said her name was Marie Elizabeth, ran and hugged the man once he was released.
"You don't need an identity card to raise the French flag!" she cried. "France lives in the hearts of people, in the hearts of humanity!"
In the afternoon, a group of Muslim leaders gathered to denounce the violence carried out by men who declared allegiance to the Islamic State. Along with Jewish author Marek Halter, they laid flowers at the memorial near the Bataclan concert venue.
"Anyone who uses hate speech has no place in France, and those places that preach hate are not places of prayer but are those of a sect," Hassen Chalghoumi, imam of Drancy, told the crowd. "Million[s] of people are hostages of these barbarians who are sullying the name of Islam and Muslims."
"It's time to say no to this barbarity."
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