I Thought of St. Michael the Archangel, Says ‘Backpack Hero’ of Annecy Knife Attack

Amid his tour of France’s cathedrals, Henri d’Anselme discusses the country’s original vocation as the Church’s historic protector, assesses the spiritual state of Europe — and how faith helped him that fateful day.

Henri d’Anselme is on a quest to visit all of the cathedrals in France.
Henri d’Anselme is on a quest to visit all of the cathedrals in France. (photo: Courtesy of Henri d’Anselme)

His name and face brought comfort to a world shocked by the appalling knife attack that wounded six people, including four small children, near Annecy Lake (north of the French Alps) on June 8, 2023. 

A few hours after the event, it was the profound, serene gaze of 24-year-old Henri d’Anselme, who had not hesitated to risk his life in an attempt to stop the perpetrator, that gone viral on all social networks, earning him the nickname of “Backpack Hero.”

The public’s surprise was heightened when they discovered that the young man had been driven by his love of Christ and that he had found himself at the scene of the crime “by chance” while on a tour of France’s cathedrals to raise awareness of the need to safeguard the country’s religious heritage.

But by making the defense of heritage his main mission, it is the whole of Christianity that the young man intends to promote on a national and international scale, as he revealed in this interview with the Register on the sidelines of a conference in Budapest on April 16. “Can Christianity Save Europe?” was the theme of the event, promoted by Hungary’s National University of Public Service.

D’Anselme, who is currently a journalist for television channels C8 and Canal+, is convinced that religious monuments, and cathedrals in particular, are less works of heritage than true pillars of civilization.


The theme of today’s roundtable is the question of whether Christianity can save Europe. Do you believe that Christianity will soon be resurrected in Europe, and, if so, what form might this take?

The question is not whether there will be a revival, but when it will happen! My statement here is a matter of personal conviction; but, in my view, Christendom is certainly not about to die! How it will be reborn remains to be seen; that detail belongs to the history that is about to be written. 

What I do know, and what I’ve been able to feel through my tour of France’s cathedrals, is that we’re in a country that’s bubbling over with energy and just wants to deploy it for something greater than itself, but which today has no vision, no leader worthy of the name. And so all this energy is scattered in all directions, because the French people are profoundly entrepreneurial, determined — and they are also profoundly a people of dreamers. And they lack a leader, a vision, a purpose. The number of baptisms in France is exploding. Today, I met a priest from Burgundy who told me that, since COVID, the number of catechumens under [age] 25 has increased tenfold, which is enormous.

On a national scale, these are still small numbers, but they herald something very big. And it’s all the more beautiful when we see that these are baptisms of adults over the age of 16; in other words, that they reflect mature, voluntary, meditated decisions. There’s a reason for this: My generation hasn’t been given anything; we’re so empty-headed that we need to fill ourselves up, and all we have to do is show off what’s beautiful and talk about what’s true, and people will be moved.


Does your diagnosis of France apply to the whole of Europe? How do you view the Old Continent, which is in the throes of profound political, social and spiritual crises, as a whole? 

That’s a big question and one I often ask myself. But I can’t help thinking that France is a step ahead of the rest of Europe, not least because its state of crisis is more advanced. 

I was in Belgium, in Brussels, not so long ago, and they told me themselves that they were 15 years behind France. They’re still dealing with a post-60s Church crisis, whereas in France, the phenomenon is already almost dead. When I look at a country like Hungary, I see that the problem is not at all the same. It’s a politically Christian country, where the language is reversed compared to countries like Belgium or France, perhaps at the risk of sometimes going too far in the opposite direction, i.e., politicizing Christianity to excess. 

On the other hand, in Poland, which is historically very Christian, many young people are leaving the faith today because the country has opened up to modernity and all its ideologies, which is leading to disaster. 

I think that if France is ahead of the game, it’s because it’s always been the first to get into trouble, but it’s also always the first to get back up. I believe that if the French have the courage to stand up, the fate of the whole of Europe will be changed. 

This is deeply its vocation. I’m not the one who says it; it’s St. John Paul, in 1980, at Le Bourget. He spoke of France as the “Eldest Daughter of the Church” and educator of peoples, calling out to her: “What have you done with your baptism?” It’s not for nothing that Clovis was the first king to found a Christian kingdom, along with Armenia, but on a completely different scale. France has always been the secular arm of the Church; it has always defended it. It is the country with the most saints, Marian apparitions and missionaries throughout the world; it is the country with the most cathedrals relative to its territory. All these signs leave little room for doubt — apart from any providentialist vision, one need only look at the facts. Our generation is condemned to heroism!


This is the famous dynamic of creative minorities, capable of changing the course of history. It’s also worth noting that those who return to the faith tend to prefer movements that propose a more radical life of faith, lived as closely as possible to the immutable teachings of Christ and his Church.

Indeed, this brings together a whole host of nuances and sensitivities. On the one hand, there are the traditionalists, who I think will bring together all those who return to the faith for reasons of identity, who say to themselves that there is a reason behind the fact that all their ancestors went to Mass every day and that this treasure must be saved because it is part of who they are. So they tend to gravitate towards this form of liturgy and spirituality, which is very much embodied in the rite, in tradition, which is older than other movements and offers them more temporal reference points. And then there’s a whole section of people who go for what we call “new communities,” even if the term is a little outdated, attracted by a simpler, more extroverted, more spontaneous expression of faith.


You mentioned the symbol of the cathedral in your speech today, likening it to the symbol of civilization. As Notre Dame de Paris prepares to reopen its doors on Dec. 8, 2024, do you think it’s our civilization we’re renovating today, rather than just a building that people hold dear?

Cathedrals are landmarks in time and space, deeply rooted in the land, physically reflecting the land. They are landmarks that crystallize around them a historical, heritage, artistic and, of course, spiritual dimension. And it’s because we can take all these dimensions in their entirety, understand them and pass them on, that we get to the essence of the message, that we can pass on a civilization, or, in this case, rebuild it.

And I don’t think it’s insignificant that we’re reopening Notre Dame and completing its reconstruction on the eve of 2025. It was André Malraux [former French minister of culture] who said, “The 21st century will be religious, or it will not be at all.” Paris’ cathedral is clearly saying the same thing to us, opening its doors and saying: “Guys, I’m opening the door to the 21st century. The first quarter is coming to an end. Now it’s up to you; I’ve done my bit!”

Defending our heritage is first and foremost a matter of individual responsibility, which means it’s up to each and every one of us to do our bit. We have to save this heritage, materially speaking, but, above all, we have to bring it to life and give it its soul, anima, and therefore what animates it profoundly. There is a purpose to the existence of this heritage. The purpose of cathedrals is to be the house of God.

Behind all these symbols, there is an incarnation, the essence of the message, and that’s what you need to rediscover with Notre Dame de Paris. 


You also mentioned, in response to a question from today’s audience, that it was a strong spiritual instinct that prompted you to intervene against the Annecy killer. How were you prompted?

What I know is that, at the time of the attack, I had two fixed ideas in my head: St. Michael the Archangel and Arnaud Beltrame [the Catholic French policeman who exchanged his life for that of a hostage during an Islamist terrorist attack in a supermarket in 2018]. These were images that popped into my head. Instinctively, I thought in my heart, “If Arnaud Beltrame did it, I’ll do it, and by St. Michael, I’ll do it.”

As I said the day after the attack, I deeply believe that what was in him was afraid of what was in me at that moment. It means what it means. ... I’ll say no more!


When you testified in the national media after the Annecy attack, and openly expressed your Catholic views, did you feel any reticence on the part of the interviewers? 

They were all so surprised; it was too spontaneous, too unexpected for them. In fact, they tried to get me to take political positions. Of course, some politicians tried to win me over, and I had a number of them on the phone. 

But I’m not interested in the political arena. If I’m involved in politics, it’s with a capital P; I work for the political cause. And that leads me to two observations: We have no vision, no leader. My aim is to contribute to the emergence of these two things: When I’m old, in my rocking chair, by the fire, with my children and grandchildren, I want to be able to say I fought for the greatness of my country, and for God, rather than for this or that politician and his corrupt practices.


On a more personal level, after the Annecy attack, your life changed overnight, as you were thrust into the media spotlight. How did you deal with this? Did your faith help you to cope? 

I navigated it through prayer, clearly, through the prayers of others. And if I’ve kept a sort of distance from events, it’s also because of my family’s temperament: We’re used to taking things with a great deal of humor. And the world of politics and the media has never impressed me. I’ve never really taken it seriously. 

My life has changed in form, that’s for sure, but basically, I’ve always wanted to say what I say today. I’ve always wanted to fight the battle I’m fighting today. I think I’m where I belong. I’m happy about that, and I thank God for giving me the means to do it.


How far are you on your grand tour of cathedrals? How can we support you in your work to protect our religious heritage? 

To date, I’ve visited 150 of the 180 cathedrals in France. I’m still missing the overseas departments and territories, as well as Corsica. 

For the time being, anyone wishing to support my work can do so by following me on social networks, where I’ll be announcing upcoming projects. And I thank all those who will support me with their prayers!