Truly heroic

  • May 30, 2013

When Lee Rigby was hacked to death in broad daylight by two self-proclaimed Muslim fighters on a London street, the British soldier was not alone. Christ was with him in the person of three extraordinary women.

Amanda Donnelly, 44, held Rigby’s blood-soaked hand and, with her daughter, prayed for him even as his knife-wielding killers stood nearby. The women had witnessed Rigby’s execution from their car, hurried to the fallen soldier and urged the killers to let them pass, initially to offer first aid but then to pray.

Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, 48, had rushed off the Number 53 bus and, after learning that Rigby was dead, bravely turned towards one of the murderers. He was holding a bloody meat cleaver, butcher’s knife and handgun, and he ordered her to leave. Instead, she calmly approached him.

In today’s overheated media environment, heroes are too freely anointed. Remarkable achievement or even perseverance is routinely labelled heroic because heroes make catchy headlines. But society is diminished if it allows heroism to become a cliche. These Christian women, dubbed the Angels of Woolwich, displayed true heroism through their calm affirmation of the cardinal virtue of courage.

Loyau-Kennett, a Catholic, was advised by others at the scene to back away from the killers but instead, speaking in a maternal tone, she tried to persuade them to discard their weapons. A mother herself, she said her main concern was to calm them down before they harmed someone else’s child. For ten minutes she confronted them as a crowd assembled. No one else stepped forward.

“There were 50 to 60 people,” she said. “They were watching and filming on their phones. It made me sad. They were thinking of themselves.”

The killers appeared agitated but not threatening. She spoke to them firmly, compassionately, addressing them respectfully despite the bloodshed. Her words were non-judgmental as she injected calm to the scene through her humanity and grace.

“I live my life as a Christian,” she later said. “I believe in thinking about others and loving thy neighbour. We all have a duty to look after each other.”

Donnelly was too upset to answer why she ignored the obvious danger to attend to the soldier. Her family had a simple explanation. “That’s what moms do — motherly love,” said her son. “As far as she is concerned, that could have been me there on the ground.”

Every Christian is called to live as a courageous witness of the Gospel, to be not afraid. That seldom requires going to the extreme of rushing into harm’s way to pray over a young man and face his killers. These women were unable to save the soldier but with remarkable courage they gave witness to Christian love in a violent world.

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