You probably heard or read the story. It made international headlines. But I’m guessing you haven’t heard the whole story.
It began on Mar. 23, 2018. Redouane Lakdim hijacked a car, killed a passenger and wounded the driver. Lakdim claimed ties to ISIS and was armed with a gun, a large hunting knife, and three explosive devices.
The carjacking and murder turned out to be just the beginning of a violent rampage that had almost the entire country of France on lock-down for a few hours. While fleeing in the stolen car, Lakdim fired his gun into a group of police officers on a morning run, seriously injuring one of the officers. Then, he drove to Trèbes, a small town in the south of France. He barricaded himself into a grocery store with hostages.
A French police officer, Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame, 44, was one of the first to arrive at the scene. Beltrame already had a remarkable military career. He graduated at the top of his class from one of France’s elite military schools. He was a member of an elite special forces unit in the French military. He had been decorated for service in Iraq.
On Mar. 23, he once again ran toward the sound of the guns, though this time it was in his native France. And for a while it appeared that through his efforts there might be no more bloodshed. The team he helped lead negotiated with Lakdim. The terrorist released all the hostages but one, a woman named Julie. Then Lt. Col. Beltrame did a remarkable thing. He offered himself in exchange for Julie. Lakdim accepted the deal, and Beltrame laid down his weapons and entered the store. Julie came out unharmed.
Unfortunately, Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame did not. Continued negotiations failed to produce any progress. What happened next is still a matter of some speculation, but at some point, the negotiations broke down, shots rang out. The terrorist was killed, and Beltrame sustained bullet wounds in his arm and foot. But the fatal injury came from the terrorist’s knife. Bertrame had a severe knife wound to the neck. In spite of immediate medical attention, Beltrame died the next day.
Beltrame immediately and properly became a national hero. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of full colonel. At a funeral service broadcast on national television, French President Emmanuel Macron said, “Arnaud Beltrame died in the service of the nation to which he had already given so much. In giving his life to end the deadly plan of a jihadi terrorist, he fell as a hero.”
Cedric Beltrame, Lt. Col. Beltrame’s brother, added, “Beyond his job, he gave his life for someone else, for a stranger…He was well aware he had almost no chance. He was very aware of what he was doing … if we don’t describe him as a hero, I don’t know what you need to do to be a hero.”
This much of the story you may have heard, for it made headlines around the world. What has not received as much attention is Lt. Col. Betrame’s faith journey, but it’s an important part of the story, too.
Beltrame was not raised in a religious home, but at the age of 33 he converted to Christianity, becoming a devout Catholic. Dominique Arz, a chaplain in the national police who knew Beltrame said he “did not hide his faith, he radiated it. He went to the end of his service to the country and to the end of his testimony of faith. To believe is not only to adhere to a doctrine. It is first to love God and his neighbor, and to testify of his faith concretely in everyday life.”
His pastor, writing for the Diocese of the French Armed Forces, said “only his faith can explain the madness of this sacrifice, which is today the admiration of all.” He added, “I believe that only a Christian faith animated by charity could ask for this superhuman sacrifice.”
And while “Arnaud will never have children in the flesh,” his priest hopes that his “astonishing heroism” will “inspire many imitators.”