Nation honours heroic police officer who was motivated by his deep faith
Tributes have been paid across France to the heroic police officer who was killed after he offered himself in exchange for a female hostage during an Islamist attack at the supermarket siege in the small village of Trebes in southern France.
French President Emmanuel Macron hailed Lt Col Arnaud Beltrame, saying he symbolised “the French spirit of resistance” at a state funeral in Paris on Wednesday. “To accept to die so the innocent can live: that is the essence of what it means to be a soldier,” Mr Macron said as he delivered his eulogy at Invalides military museum. “Others, even many who are brave, would have wavered or hesitated.” Beltrame’s name would live forever while his attackers would sink into oblivion, Mr Macron said. The President was joined at the ceremony by his predecessors Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy.
The coffin carrying Arnaud Beltrame was driven in heavy rain through the streets of Paris from the Pantheon – a secular mausoleum for French heroes – through the Latin Quarter and along the quays of the Seine to the Invalides. Hundreds lined the streets despite the weather and joined a national memorial service. Schools and police stations around the country observed a minute’s silence.
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. He was married civilly on August 27, 2016, to Marielle.
What motivated him to risk his life for a stranger?
Fr Dominique Arz, the national chaplain of the gendarmerie, said: “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.”
Fr Jean Baptiste, one of the Canons Regular of the Mother of God of Lagrasse Abbey, who knew Beltrame well said he did not come from a religious family but he had “experienced a genuine conversion” around 2008. He was then baptised and confirmed. Fr Baptiste, who was preparing Beltrame and Marielle for a religious wedding in June, commented:
“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 an 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 the 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.”
Beltrame’s sacrifice is being compared 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. Two cities in southern France, Pau and Beziers, have announced they are naming streets in his honour, and the mayor of Versailles said he plans to do the same.