August 29, 2014


James Foley: ‘It didn’t make sense, but faith did’

No one deserves to die like this.

And no parents or family members should have to deal with the reality that the heinous and barbaric way in which their loved one is taken from them is temporarily available for a worldwide audience to view on YouTube.

Though we could turn this into another debate about the pros and cons of technology and social media, we will save that discussion for another day.

For us, it is more important today to celebrate the life of a journalist who developed a passion for travelling to the world’s trouble spots trying to expose the suffering of innocent people and shining a light where there is so much darkness.

And to remember a person who wasn’t afraid to share how the Catholic faith taught to him at a young age was a lifeline for him, especially when he was held captive.

James Foley, 40, a freelance journalist who graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee, was killed on Aug. 19 by members of the Islamic State in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes on the militants’ strongholds in northern Iraq.

By all accounts, Foley developed a heart for social justice while attending Marquette. That passion eventually led the photojournalist overseas. In 2011, he was kidnapped on a Libyan battlefield and held captive in Tripoli for 44 days.

Foley found strength during that dark time thanks to the prayers he learned as a young man.

“I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed,” he wrote in a piece published in Marquette Magazine after his release. “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 [a fellow captive] 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.”

A phone conversation he later had with his mother, Diane Foley, while he was still in captivity, confirmed something else he felt: that prayers were being offered by countless others for him and his fellow captors’ safe release.

“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,” Foley wrote.

If you think about it, we’ve all been there. Or know someone who’s been there.

A broken relationship. The loss of a job. A life-threatening illness affecting us or someone we love. When we or someone we know reaches the lowest of lows in life, how often do we feel alone?

Foley faced the challenge a second time after he was kidnapped in November 2012 while covering the civil war in Syria. His family earlier this week released a letter they said James wrote to them while in captivity. A fellow captive memorized the letter and shared it with the Foley family when he was released in June.

It reads in part: “I know you are thinking of me and praying for me. And I am so thankful. I feel you all especially when I pray. I pray for you to stay strong and to believe. I really feel I can touch you even in this darkness when I pray.”

What the journalist’s life lessons taught him—and so many of us who doubt—is that through the power of prayer and the love of so many we are never alone.

We cannot deny James Foley’s tragic death shows us there is grave evil in this world. But as Bishop Peter A. Libasci of Manchester, N.H., said during a memorial Mass celebrated on Aug. 24, we must learn from his life.

“Jim went back [into the war zone] again that we might open our eyes,” Bishop Libasci said at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish in Rochester, N.H., his family’s parish.“That we might indeed know how precious is this gift. May almighty God grant peace to James and to all our fragile world.”

We continue to offer our prayers for Foley’s family, and we remember these words the journalist shared to close his reflection about his time in captivity in Libya in 2011: “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.”

—Mike Krokos

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