From Naval Officer to Firefighter, but for the Meaning

The terrible experience of the war in Sarajevo. An unfulfilled desire for his life in his heart. The encounter with a priest who invited him to a meeting with friends in the Movement. Now the decision to become a firefighter


Sarajevo, October 1996: as our car passed, there was a terrible explosion. We picked ourselves back up. Suddenly, I had a flash of awareness of the value of my life. I was 26 years old at the time and a junior lieutenant, and for the first time I was in a war. The situation was difficult; we did not fully understand what we were supposed to do, and confusion reigned everywhere and in everyone. We tried to maintain the cease-fire among the different communities. The hatred was so exasperated that dialogue was impossible. Reality was very different from the images and comments offered by the media; it was not a case of good guys on one side and bad guys on the other. The desperation of the Serbs struck us as much as that of the Muslims. The devastation of souls was as bad as that of things, the result of the bombing.

The only true thing that we had encountered, besides the ruin of people and places, was the encounter with a Serbian pope on the occasion of a religious holiday. He had come to meet us and had given each of us (there were about ten of us) a little crucifix containing a relic of the true cross, “so it can protect you.” This gesture restored to us the capacity for hope that we had lost.

A period of struggle awaited me on my return home. The desire to build my professional life coupled with the desire to live real relationships of affection presented challenges that I thought I could handle just by using my will. I thought I was strong, with a strength all my own. My disappointment was great: I could do nothing other than realize the poverty of my abilities.

It was then, in the spring of 2000, in this situation of confusion that was deeply troubling me, that a priest friend of mine, connected with the Movement, proposed that I go on a retreat, “to take stock of your life.”

“What is man and how can he come to know it?” What a funny title for a retreat! Trusting my friends, and with a strong quest inside, I went. At the end of that weekend, I was sure I had finally found what I had been awaiting, what frees a person and opens him up to reality. I had found again the road of my destiny.

The gesture of School of Community became something important in my life. Besides the fact that I met my friends there, it was above all the place where I could verify the correspondence between my desire and my daily experience. Unfortunately, since I was still in the Navy during that period, based in Brest, in northern Brittany, it was difficult for me to live this gesture regularly every week. One day, on the ship, I proposed a moment of reflection on The Religious Sense to my officer friends as we were sailing along the coast of Normandy. This moment together was greatly appreciated and enabled many of them to become aware of another humanity, besides making me even more certain of the desire that dwells in the hearts of all men.

The following year, I was attached to the Etat Major, where I met a man, one of my superiors, with whom I was able to share many experiences and discussions. He was a very open person, with a deep desire to understand all the events that it fell to us to experience. I remember, for example, a shipwreck off the coast of Madagascar. We had gone to it in an attempt to save the passengers, but unfortunately we did not find any survivors. While we were there on the spot, a second ship started sinking a short distance away, and without our presence there it would have had the same fate as the first one. A whole situation that an instant earlier had seemed absurd to us revealed its meaning in an unimaginable way. I made this comment to the commander: “The destiny of this operation was not to save the first ship, but to be there to save the second.” I believe that both of us, at that moment, became aware of the presence of an Other greater than our reason. We looked at reality in a completely different way compared to all those around us, and I realized that the encounter I had had enabled me to judge reality more correctly.

Later, I decided to change my profession in order to live in a way that corresponded more completely to my desire, and I decided to become a firefighter in Paris.

This work gives me satisfaction; every day I am called to measure myself with the One who is the way, the truth, and the life. For me, He is a present reality despite the confusion of the world, a confusion that, in my job, I have to live with all the time. How does one react to the apparent absurdity of the death of a six-year-old child who fell from the ninth floor? Or how can you find the strength to do first aid on him, knowing there is no hope of resuscitating him? How do you tell parents their child has died? In the face of such dramatic moments, if meaning does not well forth, then nothingness is the victor. Also and above all, in circumstances like those, I place the certainty of a hope in my friends and in what we believe and what unites us.

Nonetheless, when at the beginning of this year I was asked to lead a School of Community, I hesitated. Did I have the time, the means, the intelligence to do it?

Come on! It was time to trust!

When I look back over all these important moments of my life and link them together, I realize that God did not make me follow just any road. Thanks to you, my way of looking at things has changed; it is less calculating, less instinctive, and is more reflective, simple, responsible, and, above all, full of hope.

I understand the necessity to love and welcome what life offers us. I am aware of the love that comes to me through this companionship, for which I give thanks every day.