The police officer who died after taking the place of a hostage in France was a practising Catholic who had “experienced a genuine conversion” around 2008.
Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame died on Saturday after volunteering to replace a female hostage during a terrorist attack on the Super U supermarket in Trèbes, southern France, on Friday.
Beltrame left his phone on so that police could hear his conversations with the gunman.
He was shot in the neck by jihadist Radouane Lakdim before police entered the supermarket and killed the Moroccan-born French national.
Beltrame served in Iraq in 2005 and received the Legion of Honour, France’s highest award, in 2012. Last year he was named deputy commander of anti-terror police in the Aude region.
Fr Dominique Arz, national chaplain of the gendarmerie, told the French Catholic magazine Famille Chrétienne: “It turns out that the lieutenant-colonel was a practising Catholic. The fact is that he did not hide his faith, and that he radiated it, he bore witness to it. We can say that his act of self-offering is consistent with what he believed. He served his country to the very end, and bore witness to his faith to the very end.”
The website Rorate Caeli compared Beltrame’s sacrifice to that of St Maximilian Kolbe, who died in 1941 after volunteering to take the place of a fellow prisoner condemned to death at Auschwitz.
Beltrame and his fiancée, Marielle, were preparing to receive the sacrament of marriage, according to Fr Jean-Baptiste, one of the Canons Regular of the Mother of God of Lagrasse Abbey.
Fr Jean-Baptiste said in a statement, translated by Christopher Gillibrand: “It was through a chance meeting during a visit to our abbey, which is a historical monument, that I met Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame and Marielle, who he had just married civilly on August 27, 2016. We got on together very quickly and they asked me to prepare them for the religious wedding that I was going to celebrate near Vannes on June 9. We spent many hours working on the basics of married life for almost two years. I had just blessed their home on December 16 and we were finalising their canonical marriage record. The very beautiful declaration of intention of Arnaud reached me four days before his heroic death.
“This young couple regularly came to the abbey to participate in Masses, services and teachings, especially to a group of ‘foyers’, Notre Dame de Cana. They were part of the Narbonne team. They came again last Sunday.
“Intelligent, sporty, voluble and lively, Arnaud spoke readily of his conversion. Born into a family with little practice, he experienced a genuine conversion around 2008, at almost 33 years old. He received First Communion and Confirmation after two years of catechumenate, in 2010.
“After a pilgrimage to Sainte-Anne-d’Auray in 2015, where he asked the Virgin Mary to help him to meet the woman of his life, he became friends with Marielle, whose faith is deep and discreet. The engagement was celebrated at the Breton abbey of Timadeuc at Easter 2016.
“Passionate about the gendarmerie, he has always had a passion for France, her greatness, her history and her Christian roots which he rediscovered with his conversion. By substituting himself for the hostages, he was probably motivated by a commitment to gallantry as an officer, because for him being a policeman meant protecting. But he knew the incredible risk that he was taking.
“He also knew the promise of religious marriage he made to Marielle, who is already his wife and who he loved tenderly, as I witnessed. So? Was he right to take such a risk? It seems to me that only his faith can explain the madness of this sacrifice which is today the admiration of all. He knew, as Jesus told us, that ‘There is no greater love than to give one’s life for one’s friends’ (John 15.13). He knew that if his life began to belong to Marielle, it was also to God, to France, to his brothers in danger of death. I believe that only a Christian faith animated by charity could ask for this superhuman sacrifice.
“I was able to join him at the hospital in Carcassonne around 9pm last night. The gendarmes and the doctors or nurses opened the way with remarkable delicacy. He was alive but unconscious. I was able to give him the Sacrament of the Sick and the apostolic blessing at the moment of death. Marielle responded to these beautiful liturgical formulas.
“It was the Friday before the Passion, just before the opening of Holy Week. I had just prayed the office of none and the Stations of the Cross for him. I asked the caregiver if he could have near him a Marian medal, that of the rue du Bac in Paris.
“Comprehensive and professional, a nurse, attached it to his shoulder. I could not marry him, as an article awkwardly said, because he was unconscious. Arnaud will never now have children in life. But his astonishing heroism will, I believe, inspire many imitators, ready to give of themselves to France and her Christian joy.”