Gangster of God

The following story is the resume of a talk by André Levet,  a French gangster who made an appointment with God. It  has much to teach us about the  malice of sin and the mercy of  Our Lord: 

My name is André Levet. I was born in 1932 in an atheist family.  I had never heard of God. During the war of 39-40, my father was deported. No longer having either a father or a mother, I was abandoned, then collected in a  Pyrenean farm. My father was released in 1945; he tried to start a new life, but I did not accept my new stepmother and I fled to  Marseilles, at the age of 13, sleeping in the streets and unloading trucks. At that time, the police arrested me and put me in prison,  at Baumettes, while waiting to return me to my family.

In contact with other prisoners, I  became a petty criminal, learning all the tricks of the “trade”. At 15  I was arrested for an armed robbery, and put in prison until my majority. At 18, we had the option of enlisting in the Indochina war,  which I did to avoid prison. I was injured and repatriated to France and treated until my majority. 

After that, with my military and prison experiences, I became the leader of a band of gangsters,  specializing in bank robbery. One day, when I had come to Laval for “business”, I saw a priest in a robe, on the other side of the road. I went to him, and having never seen one before, I asked him if he was a man or a woman.

He replied: “I am a servant of  God. God, He’s my boss!” 

I told him: “Your God, where is  He? We do not see him.” He replied: “I see that you don’t know  God, but if one day you have  time, come and discuss it with  me, 12B rue de Solferino.” I have  never forgotten this address… 

Sometime later, I was in Rennes to attack a bank. There, the case  went wrong, my friend was killed and I was arrested. I escaped, I  went to South America where I  organized drug trafficking. 

Back in France, I was arrested again, only to escape again. All my crimes would earn me 120 years in prison if I had to add it all up. I was transferred to Clair Vaux, to the prison of the hardened criminals, and with friends  I tried to escape by digging a  tunnel. The escape was nearly successful, but we were recaptured. I attempted yet another escape, alone, by holding up a  guard with a weapon. Again I got caught. They decided to send me to Château Thierry. The director  received me with these words:  “Here, you work or you die!” I  responded by hurling his desk at his head. They put me in a very small cell with a sealed bed.

My priest did not abandon me; he sent me a letter a month or from time to time. He spoke to me of  God, telling me that He was good.  I answered him: “If your God is good, why must there be so many wars, misery, why some are dying of hunger while others  have too much? Why do some  have several houses while others  do not?” The priest replied:  “André, you are responsible.”  What? Me? I was willing to be responsible for the robberies, but not for the misery of the world! 

And then one day, the priest sent  me a big book saying: “André,  you can read this book all the  time, even after your death,  starting with any page.” The  guard brought it to me, saying  to me: “This is a good book, you  should read it; you can even take  it to the dungeon.” “What does it  talk about?” “Of the good God,”  he answered me. What! It’s not true! He brought me his good  Lord back to my cell; I threw the book away. My priest wrote to me all the time, begging me to read the book. 

So, to please him, in 10 years I  opened it 9 times. I started by  reading the wedding at Cana,  where Jesus changes water into  wine. I turned on my sink faucet and said: “Make it run wine!”  It did not work. I wrote it to the  priest saying: “Your book doesn’t  work.” My parish priest replied:  “André, you are reading the wrong way. Persevere.” 

I read the story of the Samaritan  woman, the story of the raising  of Lazarus. With this story I was  revolted, I couldn’t believe it. My  friend who was shot by the cops,  he didn’t come back to life, did  he? Then I went back to read ing, long after, and I read how  much good Jesus had done to  people and how much they had  mistreated Him, they had spat on  Him, they had scourged Him, they  had reviled Him, then they had  nailed Him to a cross … I was  revolted, I didn’t understand why  they were doing so much harm to  someone who was doing so much  good. 

I gave up reading and was still  trying to escape. I was expecting  a weapon and a file, but these objects were intercepted. I had  no hope left, so in desperation  I called on Jesus. I told Him: “If  you exist, I’ll make an appointment. Come tonight at 2 a.m.  to my cell and You will help me  escape.” 

I fell asleep that night and suddenly in the middle of the night  I was woken up. Ready to jump to my feet, I felt a presence in my cell, but I saw no one. Then  I heard a clear and strong voice inside me: “André, it is 2 a.m. We  have an appointment.” 

I called the guard, shouting: “Are  you calling me?” “No,” he told me. “What time is it?” I asked. “2 o’clock in the morning.” “Two and how many minutes?” “2  o’clock sharp,” answered the guard. Then the voice was heard  again: “Do not be incredulous,  I am your God, the God of all  men.” “But I do not see you!” I  answered. 

At that moment, towards the bars of the skylight, a light appeared.  And in that light, a Man with pierced hands and feet and a hole in His right side. He said to me: “It is also for you”. 

At that moment, the scales from my eyes, heavy with 37 years of sins, fell off and I saw all my misery and wickedness. I fell to my knees and remained in this position until 7 am. I cried before God and all evil came out of me.  I understood that for 37 years I  had driven nails into His hands and feet. 

At 7 a.m. the guards opened the door to me; they saw me on my knees and crying. I told them:  “I won’t spit on you anymore;  I won’t hit anyone anymore;  I won’t rob anyone anymore,  because every time I do it, I do it to Jesus”. The guards were surprised, they initially thought it was a trick on my part. Then quickly, they understood that I had completely changed.


Father Marcel Stannus