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Jean Michel Beranger, strengthening faith

Jean Michel Beranger

Jean Michel Beranger (France, Grenoble, 1969) does not believe in quirks of fate, but rather in signs sent to us by God.

He studied Agrobusiness in Lyon and chose Spain to do his 16 months of military service in a French agrifood company (an option that the French government gave to young people who wanted to continue working). Our country caught him, hook, line and sinker and he has lived here ever since.

His faith is absolute because he has seen life after death. Six years ago he met it face on. He suffered a stroke and open-heart surgery due to bacteria that that affected his heart, specifically the aortic valve.

Our appointment was on Ash Wednesday and we attended mass, not at his usual church (San Luis de Los Franceses), but at another where a good friend of his was celebrating mass. We ended the day in the Chinese district of Usera with an excellent meal in a Cantonese restaurant.

Do you feel more Spanish or French?

Right now I would give up my French Passport if I had the chance of obtaining a European one. I am a Frenchman, living in Spain, married to a Chinese woman, who for many years has worked for the English. I am the result of multiculturalism, which is very rewarding.

What a strange mixture! And if you have children, even more so! By the way, where did you meet your wife?

Don’t expect me to say that we met in China, because it was much more commonplace than that. I met my wife 28 years ago in the Retiro Park, in Madrid. We got married six years later and we have two daughters; one with a more western appearance and the other who looks more like my wife’s family. Now, they are both studying abroad, one in Maastricht and the other between Madrid and China.

This year you are the chairman of the Rotary Club in Madrid. What does being a Rotary member mean?

The Rotary Club, of which there are several hundred all over the world, was founded by the lawyer Paul Harris in 1905 in Chicago. It is a philanthropic club, inspired by North American liberalism. It is a meeting place, where relations are built between professionals and talent is placed at the service of the common good. Its members can have any political, ideological or religious affinity. The offices are renewed every year and this year I am the chairman.

Does the Rotary Club’s wheel have any symbolism?

Yes, it refers to our past roots, when we did not have a specific meeting place and we met up at different places all the time. We rolled along.

I think I remember that you told me that once you had actively taken part in politics. Are you right wing or left wing?

Since I was 17 years old I have taken part in many types of assemblies and group events. I define myself as right wing in the economic world but left wing for anything related to social issues.

How much have you been involved in politics?

I was in charge of Sarkozy’s political campaign in Spain. Before he became President, he held two important meetings: one in London and the other in Madrid. Here, at the Conference Centre, we brought together over 2,000 people and many politicians from the Partido Popular. In France, being right wing does not have the same meaning as it does in Spain. You are never accused of being a fascist. The extreme right and the extreme left are another question altogether; I consider both to be dangerous.

How was your political experience?

Committing yourself to a party means seeing its dirty laundry and Spain is not alone with its betrayals and backstabbing; the same happens in France. This is the reason I left the world of politics.

But today you had lunch with a European politician, Michel Barnier, the former European Commission’s negotiator for Brexit, and in France there are elections next month. Are you thinking of returning?

No, but I keep up my social relations with the French community in Madrid and why not – also with politicians. We usually meet for meals, and they are very enlightening, helping me to understand how events occur.

Six years ago you lived through a life-changing experience, which at the very least makes my head spin to think about it. Has it meant a before and after in your life?

Of course. Anyone who has gone through an experience like mine knows that it is so. I was on the verge of dying, but in my mind, I was certain that this was not going to happen, although the doctors did not agree with me.

How do you know that you are not going to die, when the doctors think you are?

I knew it; I felt inside myself that God wanted me to live and that is what happened.

Have you always been a man of faith?

No. My family is catholic, but when I was young I distanced myself from religion for a time. Those of us who have faith, although we might have crises, our belief remains and this is what happened to me.

Have you had any other experience of faith?

Yes, I had two life experiences before my illness, which made my faith deepen. The first one I felt with my mother-in-law, who lived with us. She was ill and every night I went into her bedroom to give her a kiss and say goodnight. The last night I felt something special, a strong urge that led me to open the Bible and read at random. The biblical passage was totally apt for the situation. My mother-in-law died the following morning and the only thing I regret is that I did not tell my wife about it.

The second took place with my father in the Alps. My family always spent a week in France skiing. That year, I wasn’t going to go for very important work reasons, but my father was very insistent. I gave in and spent a day skiing and talking to my father, who felt fine. At one point, we separated and he was lost for a few hours on the mountain. After he was found, I embraced him as I had never done before and I felt something special inside me. This was the last time I saw him.

What do you do at the weekends?

I go to the mountains. I grew up close to the Alps and this gives you a special love for nature. I have a good friend who is a priest, who is over 80 years old and we go walking and picking asparagus in the countryside.

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