PARIS — Catholic pilgrims have held an emotional procession past fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral, singing and parading with a statue of the Virgin Mary rescued from the flames.

Hundreds gathered on a bridge near the cordoned-off cathedral for Thursday’s Assumption Day procession. They wound along nearby embankments toward Saint Sulpice Church on the Left Bank for a service led by Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit.

“The procession takes place every year. People come to take refuge in the heart of Mary, the heart of a mother,” the archbishop said. “Obviously it’s a particular emotion today.”

“Yes, the cathedral is still alive and all people are affected by what happened to it. When one goes to the bedside of a wounded person, it is because he is still alive,” said Aupetit.

People in the procession carry a statue of the Virgin Mary given to the cathedral by King Charles X of France in 1830.

“All people are taking care of her today. Wherever I go, there is a great emotion for Our Lady,” the archbishop said.

The procession would have started in the forecourt of Notre Dame, but the entire area and some nearby streets are now fenced off and under strict security. As the ceremony began, workers cleared debris from benches around the cathedral as part of decontamination efforts amid fears of residual lead poisoning from April’s fire.

Crux staff contributed to this report.

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