It’s not often that we hear stories of heroism on the evening news. More often we have to wait until after the program and turn on a movie. Last week in France we witnessed one of those rare moments; a man gave his life to save someone in danger of losing theirs. His name was Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Beltrame, a highly decorated officer, and as more information became available, we discovered he was also a Christian brother.
On Thursday March 22, Radouane Lakdim, a 26-year-old Moroccan extremist with connections to ISIS, acted out in three acts of terrorism in the vicinity of Carcassonne, in the South of France. He was known to the authorities, under investigation and had a case pending against him.1 He stole a car, fired on its owner, killing the passenger, drove to military police camp, fired on and wounded an officer before ending up at the grocery store and attacking it, taking hostages.
During the negotiations, Lieutenant Colonel Beltrame, offered to take the place of the hostage.
The terrorist accepted and freed her as soon the Lieutenant Colonel entered. Beltrame opened his cell phone, placing it on the table, allowing the Anti-Terrorist Squad to follow what happened inside the store. Lakdim fired four shots at the officer, as the special forces unit attacked and successfully liberated the supermarket, killing the terrorist. Beltrame was rushed to the hospital but died of his wounds later that night.2 Since, the moving testimonials have not stopped pouring in from family, friends, colleagues, clergy and even the president of France, Emmanuel Macron.
Arnaud Beltrame was born into a non-practicing Catholic family. He graduated from an elite military school, served in Iraq, served on the security committee at the presidential palace, Elysée, served in the government under the ministry of Ecology before returning to the terrain as an Adjoining Commander in August 2017. At the age of 39, he entered into the Legion of Honor.3 His career was exceptional, and his devotion exemplary. His mother spoke of him this weekend saying, “If he were here, he would say, ‘I was just doing my job.'” Clearly there was something else inspiring him than pure duty.
In 2008 he had a real conversion experience, became a practicing Catholic and took his first communion two years later. His colleagues spoke of a man full of faith, who shared what he believed in word and deed. A local clergyman close to him told of how he prayed to meet the woman God had for him and how that prayer was answered. At 45 years old, Arnaud Beltrame was married without children.4
In today’s complex geopolitical context, it’s not easy to read into these situations where faith comes into play.
This story is intriguing because out of the darkness of a crime committed in hate, came a life-sparing sacrifice of a man who wanted to follow Christ. The timing of his act of bravery corresponds to the season, a time when we remember the One who in perfect innocence, gave his life for a world in rebellion, to save us, give us life and hope. We can only imagine the welcome Beltrame had entering into his heavenly reward. May it inspire us to be brave, seek justice and live out the Gospel, as we pray for his family.
1“Le suivi du terroriste de Carcassonne en questions”– LaCroix
2 “Attaques terroristes dans l’Aude : le récit de 4 heures de terreur”– Le Parisien
3 “Communiqué – Décès du lieutenant-colonel Arnaud Beltrame”– elysee.fr
4 “Arnaud Beltrame : Le témoignage bouleversant du prêtre qui l’a accompagné jusqu’au bout”– famille chrétienne