James Wright Foley: A Strong Faith in a Strange Land

James Wright Foley: A Strong Faith in a Strange Land August 20, 2014

James FoleyThe news that American front-line journalist James Wright Foley has been beheaded by ISIS has sent shock waves through America.  Graphic video of the execution was released by ISIS, with a warning to President Obama that his next decision will determine whether a second freelance reporter, Steven Joel Sotloff, will meet the same fate.

Foley was captured on Thanksgiving Day in 2012, and since that time his parents, family and friends have mounted a campaign of prayer for his safe release.  Following news of Foley’s death, his mother Diane posted a message on the “Find James Foley” page on Facebook:

A message from Jim’s mom, Diane Foley: 

We have never been prouder of our son Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people. 

We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages. Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world.

We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person. Please respect our privacy in the days ahead as we mourn and cherish Jim.

Jim was a 1996 alumnus of Marquette University.  In Summer 2014, the university’s Marquette magazine carried a letter he’d written titled “Phone Call Home.”  In the letter, Jim recounted how volunteer projects in which he’d participated while a student had helped him to realize that he was a sheltered kid and the world had real problems.  Later, his volunteer service at a Milwaukee junior high school near the university had inspired him to become an inner-city teacher.

Then, Jim talks about an earlier imprisonment in Libya, where he was jailed for six months in 2011.

Myself and two colleagues had been captured and were being held in a military detention center in Tripoli. Each day brought increasing worry that our moms would begin to panic. My colleague, Clare, was supposed to call her mom on her birthday, which was the day after we were captured. I had still not fully admitted to myself that my mom knew what had happened. But I kept telling Clare my mom had a strong faith.

I prayed she’d know I was OK. I prayed I could communicate through some cosmic reach of the universe to her.

I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. 
I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused.

Clare and I prayed together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone.

Jim continued, sharing his experience as a prisoner in Tripoli, and his joy when he was finally permitted to call his mother in New Hampshire.  She told him about the prayers for his safe return, about the prayer vigil being held at Marquette.

I replayed that call hundreds of times in my head — my mother’s voice, the names of my friends, her knowledge of our situation, her absolute belief in the power of prayer. She told me my friends had gathered to do anything they could to help. I knew I wasn’t alone.

My last night in Tripoli, I had my first Internet connection in 44 days and was able to listen to a speech Tom Durkin gave for me at the Marquette vigil. To a church full of friends, alums, priests, students and faculty, I watched the best speech a brother could give for another. It felt like a best man speech and a eulogy in one. It showed tremendous heart and was just a glimpse of the efforts and prayers people were pouring forth. If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us. It didn’t make sense, but faith did. 

Requiescat in pace, Jim.  May you rest in the arms of our Heavenly Father.

James Foley 2

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