Notre Dame Will Not Reopen for Mass Until Sometime in 2024

French President Emmanuel Macron visited the Notre Dame rebuilding site Thursday, two years after a fire tore through the famous Parisian cathedral.

Macron assessed the progress of the restoration project and promised the cathedral would be rebuilt by 2024.

"We're seeing here how, in two years, a huge work has been accomplished," Macron said, recalling the "emotion" felt throughout France at the images of flames devouring Notre Dame on April 15, 2019. "We also see what's remain to be done."

Macron offered "a huge thank you" and a message of determination to all the workers mobilized to rebuild Notre Dame.

"We will need to meet our goals" set for three years from now, Macron said.

But city officials said the work won't be fully completed by then. Officials said earlier this month that the burned-out cathedral could remain under construction for another 15 or 20 years.

The fire deposited large amounts of toxic lead onto Notre Dame and the surrounding area, complicating clean-up efforts before the restoration could even begin. Now the COVID-19 pandemic has further slowed the pace of the project, officials said.

The Notre Dame project still in the initial consolidation phase. The actual restoration phase is expected to start next winter.

However, officials pledge Notre Dame will be at least be open for prayer and a "return to worship" in time for Paris to host the 2024 Summer Olympics.

"The objective...is to return Notre Dame to worshippers and to visits in 2024," Jeremie Patrier-Leitus, a spokesperson for the restoration, told The Associated Press. "That means that in 2024, Mass will be able to be organized in the cathedral."

Notre Dame Restoration
French President Emmanuel Macron (C), the architecte in charge of the restoration Philippe Villeneuve (2nd R), Paris' mayor Anne Hidalgo (R), Paris' Archbishop Michel Aupetit (2nd L), and Jean-Louis Georgelin (L), a former general leading the restoration efforts, tour the scaffolding under the vault of Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral during a visit marking two years since the blaze that made the spire collapsed and destroyed much of the roof, in Paris on April 15, 2021. - The actual restoration work has yet to begin as time up until now has been spent on securing the building, and the full restoration works should begin early next year. Ian LANGSDON/AFP via Getty Images

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Cranes and scaffolding from the massive project scar the French capital's skyline, and the rebuilding work could take decades.

Patrier-Leitus wants the world to know that "Notre Dame is holding up. It is still there. We are all gathered and mobilized to restore the cathedral and give this jewel of French Gothic architecture back to the world."

It remains to be seen if the cathedral will be in shape by then to welcome the some 20 million tourists it received each year before the fire.

Since 2019, religious ceremonies have taken place at Notre Dame's temporary liturgical base at the nearby church of Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois. The church lacks the size and wow-factor that drew the faithful to the cathedral for nearly 900 years.

The Elysee presidential palace said Macron's visit "will be an opportunity for the head of state to thank again all those who helped save the cathedral from the flames" and after. That includes the carpenters, scaffolders, rope access technicians, crane operators, organ builders, master glassmakers, painting and sculpture restorers, stonemasons, archaeologists, researchers and donors who helped keep the restoration work going despite the difficulties posed by the current health crisis.

Two years is a blink of an eye in a restoration timeline. But the overwhelming feeling among those who love Notre Dame is relief that the project so far has been a success.

"I can say today that the cathedral is saved. It is well secured ,and we can now do the huge work of reconstruction that is not going to destabilize the whole building," Notre Dame's rector, Patrick Chauvet, told the AP.

The consolidation phase costing 165 million euros ($197 million) was vital: 40,000 metal tubes from scaffolding that was in place at the time of the fire melted during the blaze and had to be patiently cut off the roof. The vaults inside the cathedral also had to be stabilized. In a sign of the work to come, though, 1,000 oak trees were felled in some 200 French forests this spring to make the frame for the cathedral's transept and spire — destined to be admired on the Paris skyline for potentially hundreds of years

The night of the fire may well be 24 months in the past, but it still feels very near to Parisian witnesses. Frederico Benani, who witnessed and filmed the burning cathedral, was tearful as he recounted the experience.

"I was here with my wife having tea. I saw a little black flame, and I never thought it was Notre Dame that was burning, and it was shocking for me to see all of those flames," Benani said. "It was horrible. It was sad. It breaks my heart."