What did you learn, over the weekend, in the global coverage of the sacrificial death of Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame?
Let's say that you saw the main CNN.com report, which led with the fact that the 45-year-old Beltrame died up wounds he suffered after volunteering to swap places with a female hostage during a self-proclaimed ISIS supporter's attack on a supermarket in southern France.
French President Emmanuel Macron said that by "giving his life to end the murderous escapade of a jihadist terrorist, he died a hero."
What other crucial information did CNN producers include to help news consumers understand Beltrame and the nature of his sacrifice? We are, of course, looking for a faith angle.
Married with no children, Beltrame had served in the French military police and received a number of awards for bravery. He served in Iraq in 2005, and was given an award for bravery in 2007, Macron said. For four years, he was a commander in the Republican Guard, which provides security at the Élysée Palace, home of the French president.
In 2012, he was knighted in France's prestigious Legion of Honor. ... Last year Beltrame was appointed deputy commander of the anti-terror police in the Aude region.
According to the newspaper La Dépêche du Midi, Beltrame led a simulated terror attack in December on a supermarket for training purposes. ...
Now, some publications -- religious publications, for the most part -- included material from another voice of authority on the life and work of Beltrame. That would be Father Dominique Arz, national chaplain of the gendarmerie (hat tip to Rod "The Benedict Option" Dreher).
Now, I do not speak French, so I am trusting Google translator for this information from an online report by Famille Chretienne, a popular Christian news publication. Father Arz had this to say, responding to a question about Beltrame's actions:
It turns out that the lieutenant-colonel was a practicing Catholic. The fact is that he did not hide his faith, and that he radiated it, he testified. We can say that his act of offering is consistent with what he believed. He went to the end of his service to the country and to the end of his testimony of faith. To believe is not only to adhere to a doctrine. It is first to love God and his neighbor, and to testify of his faith concretely in everyday life. In the happy or unhappy, even dramatic circumstances of our lives.
Is that relevant information in a news report about this dramatic event?
Of course, it is certainly possible that a secular officer, who had been through the same hostage-crisis training, would have taken the same approach in order to save a hostage and put himself in the center of the showdown. Also, reports noted that, when he surrendered himself to the gunman, Beltrame laid his cellphone down -- with it turned on. That way, other officers could hear what was happening inside the grocery store. What else did they hear, in terms of communication between the officer and the gunman?
Was Beltrame following a protocol developed by anti-terrorist experts? That is certainly angle worth further coverage. Or did he act on his own, for whatever motives? Was he challenged to convert to Islam? Did he, in other words, die a martyr?
Also, note the CNN.com reference to this officer's marriage. The Guardian (and other news organizations) went a step further, in reporting additional poignant details:
Tributes poured in for the 45-year-old officer who, it was revealed, had been preparing to marry on 9 June. He had already married his wife, Marielle, under civil law, and the couple were planning a church ceremony. Instead, the priest who would have officiated at the wedding was called to Beltrame’s bedside, where Marielle was keeping vigil ... to give him the last rites.
The Daily Mail went further, based on an interview with the priest-monk who had been preparing the couple for the Catholic sacrament of marriage.
This passage is long, but there are many interesting details here. Journalists will note that this appears to be a transcript of a recorded interview:
The monk was a close friend of both the gendarme and his partner, Marielle Vandenbunder-Beltrame, 39, and had been preparing to marry them in church on June 9th.
Father Jean-Baptiste said the couple was extremely devout, and had regularly attended his abbey for religious teaching as they prepared to wed religiously.
Quoting the Bible reference John 15:13 in reference to Lt Col Beltrame, the monk said: 'He knew, as Jesus told us, that ''There is no greater love than to give one's life for one's friends.''
'He knew that if his life began to belong to Marielle, it also belonged 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.'
Speaking to the conservative French journal Valeurs Actuelles (Current Values), Father Jean-Baptiste said: 'It was through a chance meeting during a visit to our abbey, which is a Historical Monument, that I met Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame and Marielle, who had just married civilly on August 27, 2016.' ...
'We spent many hours working on the basics of married life for almost two years. I had just blessed their home on December 16th and we were finalising their canonical marriage record. Arnaud's very beautiful declaration of intent [to get married in Church] reached me four days before his heroic death.
'This young couple regularly came to the abbey to take part in masses, services and teachings, especially to the Our Lady of Cana group. They were part of the Narbonne team. They were here last Sunday.
'Intelligent, sporty, loud and lively, Arnaud spoke readily of his conversion. He was born into a family who did not practice their faith, but he went through a genuine conversion around 2008, at almost 33 years old. He received his first communion and confirmation after two years of teaching, in 2010.
'After a pilgrimage to Sainte-Anne-d'Auray in 2015, when he asked the Virgin Mary to meet the woman of his life, he become friends with Marielle, whose faith is deep and discreet. The engagement was celebrated at the Breton abbey of Timadeuc at Easter 2016. ...'
Believe it or not, there's more, including some reports that Beltrame was conscious long enough for the priest to marry the couple, a hour or so before the officer's death.
I will end with a familiar question: Would these kinds of human details about Beltrame, and his wife, have provided more depth to news reports about this dramatic act of sacrifice? Why did some news organizations ignore the faith element in this story?
Consider, for example, this BBC report which contains zero references to the officer's Catholic faith.
Consider, as well, this biographical section of a lengthy Associated Press report about this hostage standoff. This, of course, is the report that millions of news consumers would have seen in ordinary newspapers in America and around the world.
Beltrame’s entire career seemed to lead inexorably to the moment when he responded to the attack Friday in Trebes. ... He joined France’s elite police special forces in 2003 and served in Iraq in 2005. A former member of the presidential guard, he earned one of France’s highest honors, the Order of Merit, in 2012.
In December, Beltrame organized a counterterrorism training session for just such a hostage situation -- down to the location in a supermarket. At the time, he armed his officers with paintball guns, according to the Depeche du Midi newspaper.
“We want to be as close to real conditions as possible,” he said then.
Well now. Beltrame's "entire career" led to his actions in Trebes? Perhaps there was more to it than that?