Last Friday morning, the small towns of Carcassonne and Trèbes in southern France were terrorized for several hours. The terror started when a local criminal hijacked a car in Carcassonne, killing the driver. He then began shooting at off-duty police officers, injuring one of them. After this, the attacker drove to Trèbes and held up a supermarket, keeping hostages for several hours. During the supermarket siege, the killer made it clear that he was acting on behalf of the Islamic State, shouting “Allahu Akbar” and praising the terror organization. When the terrorist began shooting at hostages, the police entered the building and quickly killed him.
At the end of the carnage, there were 16 victims, four of whom would die because of the attack. The first person to die was the motorist, two others were killed in the supermarket, and the fourth death was a lieutenant colonel in the French police, Arnaud Beltrame, who succumbed to his wounds in the hospital. While all the deaths were tragic, the death of Beltrame has struck a chord in France and around the world.
Arnaud Beltrame, a veteran gendarme, made the heroic decision to exchange himself for a hostage during the siege. Arnaud was able to convince the terrorist to let out a hostage in exchange for himself, and was able to secretly keep his phone on so that the other police officers could hear what was going on inside. Because the police were able to hear shooting through Beltrame’s phone, they stormed the building before more people could be shot.
Because of Beltrame’s decision, a woman was able to escape a brutal situation and it’s likely that many others survived due to his actions as well. People around the world are hailing Beltrame as a hero, rightfully so. Gérard Collomb, France’s Interior Minister, stated that “France will never forget his heroism, his bravery, his sacrifice.” President Macron stated that “Lieutenant Arnaud Beltrame died serving the country to which he had already given so much. In giving his life to bring to an end the murderous actions of a jihadist terrorist, he has fallen a hero.” In the U.S., both President Trump and former vice president Joe Biden praised the actions of Beltrame. In recent days, Trump and Biden have been fighting, but this sacrifice is something that both appreciate.
Beltrame’s actions were in service of his country, and most of the praise directed towards him references this. What isn’t being talked about as much, outside of religious publications, is the role of his Catholic faith in this sacrifice. In an interview with a French faith magazine, the police chaplain stated that Beltrame, “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.”
Even in his last moments, Beltrame’s faith was on display. Beltrame, who had been legally married to his partner Marielle, was given the Catholic sacrament of marriage in the last moments of his life. Arnaud and Marielle Beltrame had planned to have a wedding in June, but because of the tragic circumstances, the ceremony did not take place in a church but in a hospital room. Just hours later, Arnaud was dead.
This Wednesday, Arnaud’s coffin was marched through the city and honored with the highest French service award, Legion d’Honneur. In a eulogy for Beltrame, President Macron lamented that, “To be ready to give your own life because nothing is more important than the life of a citizen, this is the ultimate effect of the transcendence he bore.”
The crucifixion of Christ is the greatest self-sacrifice in the history of mankind, and billions around the world are moved by that sacrifice and the promise that it entails. Arnaud Beltrame was a follower of Christ, and his actions show that he was true to those beliefs. Beltrame likely knew that by exchanging himself for a hostage his chances of survival would not be good. Beltrame made a decision that few people ever face. Beltrame was a true exemplar of Christ, and his final moments are characterized by the often-remembered verse of John 15:13, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”