On March 23 in the French town of Trèbes, an ISIS attacker entered a supermarket, killed two people, and took a woman hostage. Arnaud Beltrame, a gendarme, persuaded the attacker to let him take the woman’s place, and then was killed. Beltrame had been preparing for a Catholic wedding with the canons of the Abbey of Lagrasse, a religious order devoted to the Latin Mass. Canon Jean-Baptise offered this testimony to be read at his requiem Mass.—Ed.
After this morning’s National Tribute, I would have loved to be among you to remember colonel Arnaud Beltrame, whom I prepared for marriage over the past two years, and to whom I was close for the past several years. But I must preach at his funeral tomorrow morning at Caracassone. So I join my prayers to yours this evening.
You all know the joy I took in being by the side of Colonel Beltrame with Marielle, his fiancée (already his wife by civil marriage) five days ago at the hospital. We had gathered, we three, as if for the marriage that I was so soon supposed to bless. In place of a marriage, we celebrated extreme unction for a hero who is the admiration of all.
Let us praise the Lord for the strength He placed in that manly heart, that officer's heart. Arnaud’s excellent physical state impressed his subordinates. Often, he came to see me decked out in hiking gear. You know how brilliant was his military career. More important than all else, however, he hid from no one the joy God had offered him through the rediscovery (when he was approaching 33 years of age) of his Catholic faith, leading to his first communion and confirmation a mere 9 years ago. We spoke much of married life, evangelization, of the devil…of much else. He thirsted for knowledge and understanding.
Intellectually brilliant, he engaged in a demanding marriage preparation course with an earnestness that commanded my admiration. He and Marielle came each month to a couples’ retreat held at Narbonne or at Lagrasse Abbey. We were struck by Arnaud’s vivacity, his contagious joy—and his capacity to work out. He was loquacious, indeed almost a chatterbox. From time to time I had to interrupt him to give Marielle a chance to speak—but he would yield, turning a tender smile towards her. Because this soldier, this paratrooper, this elite gendarme, melted before the woman he loved, and overflowed with delicate attentions and kind words. I witnessed this a hundred times.
Arnaud’s declaration of intention for the Catholic marriage I should have celebrated (on the 9th of June, near Vannes) is admirable. Marielle does not wish to publish this final letter. But know that this text, written just four days before his heroic death, proves his unconditional and fervent adherence to the entirety of the Catholic faith and tradition; that in it he specially prays to Our Lady in gratitude; that he asks for the aid of St. Michael the Archangel and takes St. Joseph for his model.
When I blessed his house on December 16 of last year, I was struck by the decoration bearing witness to his faith and to his passion for history and the gendarmerie. But what was still more striking was that he had set aside a room as an oratory. The three of us prayed there together. Imitate him! Let us make room in our lives for prayer!
These holy days recall the redemptive sacrifice of Christ. Let us praise the Lord for having let Arnaud imitate Jesus, to live out the teaching that “greater love has no one than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.” (Jn 15:13). Arnaud knew the terrible risk that he was taking in offering himself as a hostage to the terrorist. He did it to save a life—many lives perhaps—because such was his commitment as an officer and a Christian.
I believe he offered his life to stop death. The belief of the jihadist directed him to kill. The Christian faith of Arnaud invited him to save life, if necessary at the price of his own.
Is Arnaud a saint in heaven, a sinner in purgatory, or (as the partisans of his killer suppose) a damned soul in hell? We have great hope that he sees us and intercedes for us, but God alone can know. However it may be, let us pray for him and for the other victims of this tragedy. Let us pray for the killer and his accomplices.
Colonel Beltrame was convinced that an ideology could not be fought simply with weapons and computers. It can be durably defeated only with spiritual convictions. The Catholic faith that he rediscovered, the Christian wonders of French history that inspired him, are the best shield against the murderous convictions that kill, and wish to kill again.
So, with Arnaud, and like him, let us be ready to sacrifice our lives for the love of our brothers.
Where there is hatred let us bring love. Where there is doubt, let us bring faith, Where there is despair let us bring hope. Amen!
Jean-Baptiste, crmd, is a canon of the Abbey of Lagrasse. Translated by Stefan McDaniel.
Become a fan of First Things on Facebook, subscribe to First Things via RSS, and follow First Things on Twitter.
Photo by Mission numérique de la Gendarmerie nationale via Creative Commons. Image cropped.