Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia has penned a column for Holy Week highlighting the sacrifice of French policeman Arnaud Beltrame, comparing his death to save a stranger to the sacrifice Christ made on Good Friday.
Beltrame swapped places Friday with a female hostage when an Islamic State-inspired gunman attacked a supermarket in southern France. Beltrame was then shot in the throat by the gunman, and died from his injuries early Saturday morning.
Beltrame received his first communion and confirmation in 2010, when he was about 35 years old. He was planning on having a religious marriage on June 9th to his civilly-married wife, Marielle. Before he died, he received the anointing of the sick; but he was unable to be sacramentally married on his deathbed as he never regained consciousness.
His priest, writing for the Diocese of the French Armed Forces, wrote that he believed “only his faith can explain the madness of this sacrifice, which is today the admiration of all.”
He added, “I believe that only a Christian faith animated by charity could ask for this superhuman sacrifice.”
And while “Arnaud will never have children in the flesh,” his priest hopes that his “astonishing heroism” will “inspire many imitators, ready to give themselves for France and for her Christian joy.”
Chaput wrote that he was most impressed with Beltrame as he was “a thoroughly human being like the rest of us.” Beltrame was not perfect, but was “an ordinary civil servant doing his everyday job on a day that turned out to be anything but ordinary.”
And although Chaput says he would not characterize Beltrame as a martyr in the traditional sense, he does believe that he is one if the word is characterized as a “witness.” He praised Beltrame for being able to live his life in such a way that sacrificing his safety for the sake of a stranger was an automatic reaction.
“But if ‘martyr’ means witness (and it does), he certainly did offer an example — a witness — of a life lived for others. He was a man who deliberately shaped and disciplined his own life until it became a common habit, a reflex, to place the well-being of others before his own. He was also a man with the common sense and substance of the soul to ask what his life meant, to listen for an answer, and to find that meaning in his Catholic faith.”
As Holy Week begins, Chaput believes that Catholics should look to Beltrame as someone who loved his fellow men so much he risked his own safety without hesitation.
“The original Hebrew meaning of that word ‘holy’ is other than. They are other than ours; higher and better, more powerful, moving, and redemptive than our own. It isn’t logical, it isn’t ‘normal’ for anyone to place his or her life in harm’s way for a friend, much less for a complete stranger as Arnaud Beltrame did.”
This, says Chaput, is a “special kind of love,” one that makes someone do “something so unreasonably beautiful.”
“It’s a love so great that on a Friday 2,000 years ago, it turned the world on its head and — with divine irony — defeated death through an instrument of torture called the cross.”