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Remembering James Foley's Remarkable Faith

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JAMES FOLEY
FILE - In this Friday, May 27, 2011, file photo, journalist James Foley poses for a photo during an interview with The Associated Press, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File) | ASSOCIATED PRESS

James Foley, an American journalist who went missing in Syria in November 2012, died at the hands of Islamic State militants.

Foley's friends and family remember a talented, generous and faithful person who "gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people" and the horrors of war.

His 2012 disappearance marked the second time Foley had been captured in the thick of political and social unrest. The first came in 2011 when Foley was reporting from the middle of the Libyan civil war. Qaddafi loyalists kidnapped him and fellow journalist Clare Morgana Gillis and held them captive for 44 days, during which time, Foley later recounted, he often turned to prayer to maintain hope.

In a letter published on the Marquette University website -- Foley's alma mater -- Foley describes the role prayer played in his life during those days in captivity, his Catholic faith and the only call home his captors allowed him:

I prayed [my mom would] 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.

When he was finally allowed to call home, Foley had been in captivity for 18 days:

I said a final prayer and dialed the number. My mom answered the phone. “Mom, Mom, it’s me, Jim.”

“Jimmy, where are you?”

“I’m still in Libya, Mom. I’m sorry about this. So sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, Jim,” she pleaded. “Oh, Daddy just left. Oh … He so wants to talk to you. How are you, Jim?” I told her I was being fed, that I was getting the best bed and being treated like a guest.

“Are they making you say these things, Jim?”

“No, the Libyans are beautiful people,” I told her. “I’ve been praying for you to know that I’m OK,” I said. “Haven’t you felt my prayers?”

“Oh, Jimmy, so many people are praying for you. All your friends, Donnie, Michael Joyce, Dan Hanrahan, Suree, Tom Durkin, Sarah Fang have been calling. Your brother Michael loves you so much.” She started to cry. “The Turkish embassy is trying to see you and also Human Rights Watch. Did you see them?” I said I hadn’t.

“They’re having a prayer vigil for you at Marquette. Don’t you feel our prayers?” she asked.

“I do, Mom, I feel them,” and I thought about this for a second. Maybe it was others’ prayers strengthening me, keeping me afloat.

Amidst the fear and anguish of his kidnapping, Foley wrote, faith was the only thing that made sense.

"If nothing else," he wrote, "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."

Foley's mother, Diane, posted a message to the public on Facebook Tuesday night recounting her pride in her son. She wrote:

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.

Both of Foley's parents spoke with media on Wednesday outside their home in Rochester, New Hampshire, calling their son "a courageous fearless journalist."

"We know Jimmy's free," Foley's father, John, said. "He's finally free. And we know he's in God's hands...and we know he's in heaven."

Foleys' priest, Father Paul Gousse, reportedly visited the Foleys' house on August 19 to pay his condolences. Gousse did not speak with reporters, but his parish posted a notice inviting members of the community to join in prayer for James, his family, friends "and all who are still in danger."

After graduating from college Foley served in Teach for America, where he met Sarah Fang -- who years later went on to work for the public awareness campaign to free him from captivity. In a January 2013 article Fang described Foley's integrity and dedication to the task at hand.

"His sense of integrity has always meant devoting himself entirely to his work... He's always been willing to step into a zone where no one else wants to go. Jim feels that society needs reporters willing to bear witness and report back the facts of history-in-the-making."

Other friends and colleagues of Foley's have come forward to share their memories of the man who spent four years reporting in war-torn countries prior to his capture. Vox's Max Fisher wrote of Foley's "unfailing generosity and warmth" in a tribute to the journalist on Tuesday.

"Jim's faith was something we all agreed not to discuss publicly while he was held in Syria," Fisher wrote, "but it was the wellspring of his generosity."

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