Last week France was on a spotlight of hatred and terror as extremists callously murdered 17 innocent people. Yet, at the same time some of us witnessed love – the greatest force that’s capable of melting even the hardest of hearts – at her very best.
As the world ached in horror on the 9th of January 2015 a story of Mr. Catalano, one of the freed hostages, emerged that proved once more that human spirit can still choose to be nice even at the face of death in the hands of a hard core Islamic State terrorist such as the Kouachi brothers.
Businessman Michel Catalano turned up at his CDT Printworks at Dammartin-en-Goële,in France as normal at around 8 o’clock on Friday morning . Through the giant window on the first floor across the car park, Mr. Catalano spotted a man dressed in combat clothing was carrying a Kalashnikov rifle and a rocket launcher slung over his shoulder.
It was clear to Mr. Catalano that these were the Kouachi brothers, the terrorists who killed 12 people in the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo the previous day. Earlier that morning they had hijacked a car and dozens of police cars had chased them along the N2 highway towards Paris. During the chase, shots were exchanged.
Shortly afterwards, they terrorists were knocking at his door and the businessman feared for his life. Trembling, he walked to the front door where he knew the fugitives were waiting, expecting to be shredded to peaces by bullets.
To his surprise, he heard a calm, quiet voice saying: “Don’t worry, we just want to come in.” Seeing the terrorists to be sodden and exhausted from their days on the run Mr. Catalano did what is natural to him – to be kind. Instead of freezing in fear Mr. Catalano said to the brothers, ” would you like a cup of coffee?!
Gratefully, the murderers gulped down their hot drinks as their weapons hung loosely at their sides. But there were still more to come from Mr. Catalano.
When the brothers saw the hundreds of gendarmes arriving, they fired a volley of shots from their Kalashnikovs. Mr Catalano dived into his office, where he hid, expecting to die. When the firing stopped Mr Catalano noticed that blood was oozing from a cut on one of the Kouachi’s forehead. When he felt that he was tense, Catalano said: ‘Look, if you want I could look after you,’! So he sat down and helped him with a plaster.The bandage was too tight, and the terrorist protested. So the businessman carefully wrapped it again, until the terrorist was comfortable.
After these calm gestures of care, Mr Catalano asked if he could leave, before the police closed in. To his surprise the terrorists let him go – unharmed!
This story shows that every human being – haters, rapists, hardcore criminals and cold blooded killers alike – need love. I don’t know what religion Mr. Catalano swears to (and it doesn’t really matter because) according to sacred scriptures being kind to all people at all times, not least to the poor and to your sworn enemies, is the finest religion there is (James 1:27; Luke 6:27).
As for me, the ultimate attitude – that I will crave this year and always – is to remain calm, grateful and loving at all times even at the face of hatred, terror and death.