Near-Death Experience Paves Way to the Priesthood

Twenty-one years ago, Vincent Lafargue had a terrible motorcycle accident that would turn his whole existence upside down.

Father Vincent Lafargue
Father Vincent Lafargue (photo: Courtesy photo)

Father Vincent Lafargue likes to celebrate Nov. 14th each year, as it marks the day of what he considers to be his second birth. On that day in 2000, the then-25-year-old Swiss man was involved in a terrible motorcycle accident that brought him close to death.  

An internal hemorrhage, followed by a cardiac arrest, propelled him out of his own body, he says, toward a powerful light in which he felt surrounded by God’s absolute love. 

Such a near-death experience radically changed his approach to life and to the deep meaning he gave to his presence on earth, to the point of leading him to embrace the priestly vocation two years later, as he recounts in this interview with the Register.  

Ordained a priest for the Diocese of Sion (in the Canton of Valais, Switzerland) in 2010, Father Lafargue lives in Villeneuve (Canton of Vaud), while he currently trains to become the chaplain of a nearby hospital in Rennaz. 

 

In what context did your accident occur?

I was 25 years old. I had three jobs at the same time: I was an actor in the evening, a radio host in the morning and a French teacher during the day. Like many people at that age, I thought I was immortal. I used to do everything extremely fast, as one of my students once pointed out to me, noting a verbal tic I had: I always said the word “quickly.” “We’re going to do an exercise quickly.” “Let’s move on to another topic quickly.” “I’ll teach you something quickly.” I realized that thanks to this student!

I was thinking about this that night on my motorcycle, and I started talking to God in my heart. I said to him: “I know I’m going too fast and that this tic says something about my life. I’m doing too much, and I wish I could brake, but I don’t know how to do that, especially because I love everything I do.” I added, “If you’re so smart, if you really exist, why don’t you try to stop me?”

I was at a red light; and at that moment, very clearly, a voice that covered the music I was listening to loudly in my headphones started to talk to me. This voice, very soft and kind — and that had nothing to do with the voice of my conscience — asked me twice: “Are you really aware of what you are asking me?” And twice, out loud, not sure what I was doing, I answered, “Yes.” 

The light turned green, and I went about 100 meters (328 feet) before I caught a car in front, at 50 mph. There was an optical illusion at that point of the road, and the driver of the car and I had no way of seeing each other. The investigators later realized this and had the road corrected. It all happened in half a second. The other car was also going 50 mph, so it felt like hitting a wall at 100 mph. It was very violent. The driver of the car, who became a friend afterwards, remained traumatized for a long time. 

 

How bad was the accident for you? 

It was very serious, but a number of “coincidences” — meaning the name that God takes when he acts incognito, so these are coincidences with a capital “G” — made it so that I didn’t die that evening. The driver had a cellphone in her car (which was not common in 2000), and she immediately called the police instead of the ambulance because she was convinced I was dead when she found me in a pool of blood. This is what saved my life because we were told later that the ambulance was stuck in traffic far away from the scene of the accident, while a police medical car was nearby and arrived in two minutes.

I was taken to the hospital in Geneva. I had many fractures, especially in the pelvis, which triggered internal bleeding that was not detected right away. I was saved in extremis by a doctor who had finished his day’s work but had stopped by the coffee machine next to me before leaving. When he saw me, he asked what was wrong with me and then asked to see my x-rays. He recognized a spot that indicated I was bleeding to death and understood I was dying. My heart stopped right outside the door of the operating room. 

 

So that’s when everything changed?

Yes. What happened at that moment is much more vivid than anything else in my mind. I suddenly saw a scene that I could observe from above. I saw an injured person on a bed, people bustling around him, and then I heard a beeping sound indicating that a heart was stopping. I was worried about this person without understanding that it was me. I was in a state of total well-being. 

In reality, it lasted barely a minute, but in my perception, it was much longer. Then I suddenly turned around, as if someone was pulling me from behind. But instead of seeing the ceiling, I saw this famous immense light, which I had never heard of before. It is much more powerful than sunlight, without being dazzling. I was attracted by it. I floated toward this light for a few moments, but unlike others, [who, for instance, claim to have seen deceased loved ones or even Jesus ] I did not go further. However, for me, this light was inhabited, not by a visible person, but by an obvious presence, which was Love, unconditional Love. And, for me, as I will learn after, love is a Person: God. This is what I felt very deeply. 

 

You say that after seeing this intense light you did not go any further. What happened next?

I was suddenly thrown back into my body. It was the worst moment of my life, sensorially speaking, even though that’s when my heart started again. All my pains were awakened. I then underwent heavy interventions. Some memories of my experience came back to me quickly after I woke up, without me really understanding the meaning of all that. 

A few months later, I talked about it to the same doctor who had performed the surgery. I told him about what I had seen, the heart massage, the dialogue between him and the nurses, the number I saw on the wall, the name on a nametag on the white coat of a caregiver next to my bed. ... The doctor was both interested and confused, saying that I could not scientifically remember any of it, especially the man next to the bed, because I had never seen him outside the operating room. He said he believed me because everything I said was right, but that it couldn’t be explained by science because my heart wasn’t beating anymore.

 

This experience pushed you to make a radical new life choice. But how did it concretely change you?

There are three main characteristics that I observed in myself afterwards and that are found in many experiencers [of near-death experiences]. First, the fact that I am no longer afraid of death. The second element is, indeed, the will to change my life. I went from my three jobs to a priestly vocation. The third characteristic is the need to be at the service of others. In my mission, I am involved in hospital chaplaincy, which allows me to be involved with people as others were with me after my accident. 

On a personal level, I’ve developed“hypocrisy antennae,” in a way. It’s a keen sense of what is upfront, fair, sincere. It is not always comfortable. It pushes me to speak the truth, which is not always easy!

 

What kind of relationship did you have with God before the accident? 

I was a believer, not a very practicing one, but I used to read at Mass for my Catholic community. I was more used to talking to God to call him to account for the world’s misfortune and evil, rather than to pray. I did not realize that God is not responsible for these evils that come from someone else. ...

An anecdote related to my accident illustrates how the Lord came to answer me on this subject. Right after my accident, a chaplain came to visit me in my room, and I sent him away bluntly. But he came back the next week, and every week after that, throughout my long hospitalization. He explained to me at length that God never does evil, that he didn’t want the evil that had befallen me but was using it to touch my heart. He told me that the Lord was nailed with me to that cross I had to bear, stuck in my bed, and that it was with him that I could get through all of this. Obviously, these words were very important and played a role in my journey. 

As “luck” would have it again, the day I went to visit the seminary in Fribourg for the first time, he was there, giving a lecture on hospital chaplaincy! 

In 2019, I have been asked to assist the patients of a new hospital in Rennaz (in the Canton of Vaud). It just so happens that the chaplain of this new facility was still him, the former chaplain of the hospital in Geneva, who is now nearing retirement. He recently asked me to take over as chaplain of the hospital. So that’s what I’m currently training for. The Lord can definitely be single-minded when he calls someone!

 

Did your vocation blossom immediately after your near-death experience?

No, two years went by first, during which I explored all the religions of the world. I was searching. The first trigger was after a Dalai Lama’s visit to Switzerland, during which he called on the local population not to convert to Buddhism, but to rediscover the beauty of their own religion. This pushed me to return to my Catholic faith, which I had been lucky enough to receive as a child. 

The other trigger came from a radio program. God often comes to us through what speaks to us. I had been a radio host, and he came to me through that channel. I was driving to school and picked up a show on the way. I heard an older man talking about everything I love — poetry, art, movies — in a way that really touched me, without my knowing who he was. It was a radio drama that lasted two or three days. The next day, I turned on the radio to listen to it, and I was struck down when I found out this man was a priest. For me, priests just said Mass on Sundays, and I had no idea that they could speak about all these subjects with such accuracy. 

I then looked up his contact information and contacted him. While talking to him over the phone, his voice was as overwhelming as on the radio. Without even thinking, I told him that I had heard him on the radio and that I felt called to the same vocation as him. I was the first one surprised by what I said. …

 

How do your fellow priests react to your story? Were you encouraged by your hierarchy to testify more about this experience to evangelize people who are away from the faith to return?

Many fellow priests know my story, because it has been covered in the media, but none of them talk to me about it, with a few exceptions. Many are embarrassed because this subject is quite taboo in the institutional Church. They tend to avoid talking about what science cannot explain, which is surprising because science has never been able to explain the miracles performed by Jesus! This tendency is mainly applicable to Western Europe, it is a little less the case in the U.S. and, of course, in the Eastern Church.

 

How do you explain this?

Our Western Catholic Church is very rationalist; it is very suspicious of the paranormal, in general. Basically, the only people with whom I can really talk about my experience are the exorcists, because they know very well that there are paranormal phenomena that science does not explain and that the Church should be interested in. 

On the other hand, many faithful are touched by my testimony because they are thirsty for testimonies that allow them to try to understand what science does not explain. I see this every time an article or a show about me is broadcast. I think that the Church must have a word to say about this kind of things. After all, it is about eternal life!

 

This caution on the part of the Church can also be explained by the fact that some “experiencers” see things that are not directly related to Christianity, according to their cultures and beliefs of origin. 

Perhaps, but dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium (Paragraph 8) suggests that there may be elements of truth in other religions. Depending on our cultures, we may have different representations, but we are all walking toward the same God. 

And in all the testimonies, the facts overlap in a way. Apart from the representations, there is nothing in the different accounts [of near-death experiences] that is contradictory to the Catholic faith, because they all speak of absolute love. Many of them, believers or not, Catholics or not, are held accountable not directly for their actions, but for the amount of love they gave during their lifetime. This is entirely consistent with the Gospel. 

 

You have had occasion to say in some interviews that the absence of fear of death does not prevent you from holding on to life strongly. How do you approach this “second life” today?  Are you a little less in a hurry than you were 20 years ago?

Unfortunately not. I’m an indefatigable activist! I’m still in a hurry to live life to the fullest, today even more than yesterday. I am also aware of what I almost lost. The days are never long enough, and I wish I didn’t need sleep to have time to do everything I want to do on earth! 

I approach life like a child in front of a huge buffet of chocolates and sweets, without knowing how to manage to eat everything, without knowing where to start ...

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