As the bells of Notre Dame Cathedral rang in the night sky, French police stopped the flow of visitors that had been arriving in a steady stream over the previous hour.
The Paris cathedral, with capacity of 9,000, was full. Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, archevêque of Paris, would be presiding over a special Sunday evening mass for the victims of the Nov. 13 terror attacks that killed 132 and injured more than 350 people.
For tonight’s service, police set up checkpoints in three locations around the cathedral, and only those who planned on staying for mass were allowed to enter. Many area residents who usually cut through the wide square in front of Notre Dame were turned away and redirected around the roped-off areas. Police checked bags and pockets as visitors filed past to congregate in the square and enter the church. Since mass would not be broadcast outside the cathedral, hundreds who were not admitted quietly began to leave the square as the ceremony began.
Those making the pilgrimage to Notre Dame in memory of the victims and in support of their families included people of all ages and nationalities.
Cherri Carol, 56, of Sydney, Australia, was one of the first to arrive at the police checkpoint. At first, she was undecided about staying for the whole ceremony, then decided it was something she had to do. It would be a way of connecting with those in her new city, she said. Carol just moved to Paris a few weeks ago and intends to stay a year.
After the attack, she did not change her plans.
“I didn’t think of leaving,” she said. “I don’t want it to impact my way of life. It’s so random. I feel, if it’s your time, it’s your time.”
Some came to Notre Dame as a family. Carol Chehowah of Paris brought her nine-year-old daughter, Kim, with her to the service.
“We wanted to pay our respects, but I didn’t want to bring her to the sites of the attacks, which would be too emotional and scary for her,” Chehowah said. “Since she’s young, this is a good way of doing it without stirring up too many emotions.”
Margaret Derring and Selene Deike, both of Virginia, arrived in Paris on vacation right after the attacks. They said when they heard that the biggest attack occurred at a concert hall their first thought was they could have easily been in that audience.
“I thought ‘there but for the grace of God go I,’” Derring said. “Our hearts go out to them. We came here to pay our respects.”
Others came to the ceremony to manage the mix of emotions plaguing them since the attacks and send a message to the attackers.
“I’ve been feeling sadness and anger,” said Clement, a 30-year-old Parisian who declined to give his last name. “We feel this hit our culture, our values. We want to show them they can’t win. We will show solidarity. We won’t change our everyday lives.”
Follow Quartz’s coverage of the Paris attacks here.