“Arnaud Beltrame on Friday [March 23], with the sacrifice of his life, made a ray of heaven descend upon the earth. And he lifted up the world in the seed of eternity.”
With these words, Bishop Antoine de Romanet, bishop of the Diocese of the Armies of France, described the final act of the life of Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame of France’s national police: The Catholic hero approached an Islamist terrorist with an unusual offer — he asked to exchange places with one of the gunman’s hostages.
Beltrame would leave his phone on a table for the police to listen in and ultimately become the terrorist’s fourth and final victim that day, fatally shot and stabbed by the time the police ended the standoff.
But Beltrame’s self-sacrificing heroism — and his ever-deepening conversion to the Catholic faith — captured the attention of secular France, the entire world and the Pope himself.
Bishop de Romanet noted that Holy Week was “enlightened by the sacrifice and the death of a man inhabited by Christ.” And Beltrame’s gift of his own life has raised speculation that he may be precisely the kind of candidate Pope Francis envisions for the new path to sainthood he proposed last year: the oblatio vitae (“gift of life”).
Beltrame experienced a conversion in 2008 and deepened his Catholic faith through his experiences at the Abbey of Lagrasse in 2016. Through the Canons of St. Mary the Mother of God, he and his civilly married wife, Marielle, decided to seek a Catholic wedding for which they would be thoroughly prepared. They participated in the abbey’s Masses, Liturgy of the Hours and teaching sessions, particularly for couples, such as Notre Dame de Cana.
Beltrame’s gift of his life has drawn comparisons with St. Maximilian Kolbe’s sacrifice, a comparison Bishop de Romanet noted, speaking of how both men’s sacrifices turned upside down the monstrous evils that confronted them.
Canon Father Jean-Baptiste, who became close friends with Beltrame and his wife during the past two years, testified to the military diocese that “only his faith can explain the madness of this sacrifice, which is today the admiration of all.”
“He understood, 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 belonged to Marielle, it also belonged to God, to France and to his brothers in danger of death,” Father Jean-Baptiste wrote. “I believe that only a Christian faith animated by charity could ask for this superhuman sacrifice.”
Offering of Life
Beltrame was posthumously promoted to colonel and made a commander of the Legion of Honor by French President Emmanuel Macron. And his sacrifice drew the immediate and personal attention of Pope Francis.
In July, the Holy Father issued Maiorem Hac Dilectionem, a document outlining the “offering of life” as a third path for a person to be considered a saint, in addition to the recognized categories of heroic virtue and martyrdom.
“Certainly the heroic offering of life, inspired and sustained by charity, expresses a true, complete and exemplary imitation of Christ, and thus is deserving of that admiration that the community of faithful customarily reserves to those who have voluntarily accepted the martyrdom of blood or have exercised Christian virtues to a heroic degree,” the Holy Father stated.
The document outlines that, for beatification under “the offer of life,” a Servant of God must meet the five criteria of “a free and voluntary offer of life and heroic acceptance propter caritatem of a certain and untimely death”; have a connection between the offer of his life and untimely death; show “the exercise, at least as ordinarily possible, of Christian virtues before the offer of life and, then, unto death”; have a “reputation of holiness and of signs, at least after death”; and a miracle due to his intercession.
The new category provides an opening for causes involving Catholics who have lived lives of uncontested ordinary virtues and gave their lives heroically for others motivated by their Catholic faith.
One obvious group is the sacrifice of Catholic chaplains in the face of certain, or almost certain, death. Mary Preece, vice postulator for the cause of Servant of God Father Vincent Capodanno, an American military chaplain, told the Register that the “offering of life” category arose after his cause, based on Father Capodanno’s heroic virtues, was submitted to Rome.
“The Marines said he was like no other chaplain,” Preece said. Father Capodanno, a Maryknoll priest, showed time and again “extraordinary” courage to accompany his Marines, regardless of the danger. He was administering the sacraments and on his way to save one more wounded man when he was cut down in the heat of battle during the Vietnam War.
The Pope’s Telegram
Father Pierre Fresson, the vicar general of the French military diocese, told the Register that the military diocese at this point has no immediate plans to promote a cause for Beltrame, as his life would need to be examined thoroughly first before he is proposed officially as a model for the faithful.
But he noted a personal telegram signed by the Holy Father reveals that Beltrame is “the subject of special attention of the Pope himself.”
In his telegram, addressed to Archbishop Alain Planet of Carcassone, Pope Francis expressed “my sadness and entrust to God’s mercy the people who lost their life, associating myself in prayer to the grief of their dear ones. I greet particularly the generous and heroic gesture of Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame, who gave his life trying to protect people.”
Father Fresson indicated the Holy Father could consider whether Beltrame meets the threshold as a candidate for sainthood under the “offering of life” category: “He could himself ask the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to examine this question, if he judges it good.”
Aymeric Pourbaix, director of France’s i.media Catholic news agency, said that he does not believe Beltrame is a clear candidate for sainthood under the “offering of life” because he still had inconsistencies between his life and his faith to resolve. Specifically, the murdered policeman’s formation had not reached the point of seeing and resolving the contradiction between his Catholic faith and membership in Freemasonry, which was also revealed after his death. According to canon law, Catholics should not engage in this fraternal organization, which involves rituals that “embody a naturalistic religion, active participation in which is incompatible with Christian faith and practice.”
But Pourbaix pointed out that Beltrame’s spiritual director, Father Jean-Baptiste, who anointed Beltrame before his death, had “no doubt as to the reality of his Catholic faith.”
Pourbaix added that Beltrame’s letter of intention for why he was seeking a sacramental Catholic marriage, written four days before his death, revealed the French hero sought the help of St. Michael the Archangel and desired St. Joseph to be his model.
Reviving France’s Faith
Pourbaix said Beltrame’s faith and sacrifice have struck a nerve in France. Facing Islamist terror, people are recognizing it is “no longer possible to deny the spiritual aid of the Catholic religion.”
“For Catholics, the heroic gesture of the officer was also noticed, because it happened on the eve of Holy Week,” he said. But others also see it as “even the first act of the spiritual rebirth of France.”
“For it is a Catholic who showed the true meaning of sacrifice, as opposed to the false Islamist martyr, who kills people in order to go to paradise,” Pourbaix said. “It is certain that it [the witness of Beltrame] will bear fruit.”
Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff writer.
This story was updated April 6.