WASHINGTON — Prayers from around the world and an unwavering faith in God have continued to provide a strong foundation for John and Diane Foley after their son, journalist James Foley, was murdered in Syria by Islamic state militants Aug. 19.
“It’s faith in God that’s kept me together,” Diane said in an interview with Catholic News Service. “I really feel that it was the prayers of people all over the world, and our church community and family, but all over the world, people were praying for him.”
The Foleys were in Washington Oct. 23 to attend the fourth annual Oxi Day Foundation Gala held at the U.S. Institute of Peace. The nonprofit foundation, which recognizes people who fight to preserve and promote freedom and democracy, presented its 2014 Oxi Day Award to the couple, who received it on behalf of their late son.
President Bill Clinton, who nominated James Foley for the award, spoke of his “courage and his value to the defense of peace, liberty and freedom,” in a pre-taped video appearance at the function.
“He represented hope in a time and place of so much despair,” Clinton said. “His life is a model of what a 21st-century citizen’s ought to be.”
James Foley was working as a freelance journalist in Syria when Islamic jihadists abducted him in Nov. 2012. He had previously reported on the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
Upon accepting the award, Diane thanked the foundation for recognizing the “need to remember people of courage and to remember our history, so that we can go forward and also to remember how important values are, to remember that goodness matters.”
In 2011, militants loyal to Moammar Gadhafi captured Foley in Libya and held him for 44 days. He later wrote an essay for Marquette Magazine in which he spoke about the power of prayer and how it helped him endure his imprisonment.
“I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed,” Foley said. “It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Mary’s off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused.”
Diane thinks praying also helped her son maintain hope during his second captivity, she said.
“I think that is a fruit of prayer, too, and his faith, that he was hopeful, that he did know … that we were all doing all we could do.”
An article published Oct. 25 in The New York Times reported that Foley had converted to Islam before his execution and even adopted the name Abu Hamza, according to a freed hostage who was detained in the same cell as Foley. John and Diane Foley, who are Catholic, maintained that their son’s faith was evident throughout his captivity, though they did not name a specific religion.
“Jim prayed often, the other hostages tell us, and when he prayed, he felt the closest to his family. So, we really felt that sustained him,” Diane said. “I’m so thankful that he believed and he trusted that God was with him, so he wasn’t totally alone.”
Diane said she believes her son’s faith, and the prayers from people all over the world, gave him the courage to endure and be a positive presence for the other hostages.
“Daniel (Ottosen, one of the freed hostages) told us that Jim was pure goodness,” she said. “And that just really meant so much to me as a mom, you know. That even in that dark hole, thanks to the prayers of so many, that Jim was able to reach deep and be a bit of goodness and light.”
Two days after Foley’s death in August, Pope Francis called the Foley family at their home in New Hampshire to offer his condolences. A Vatican spokesman said the conversation was “very long (and) intense,” and John said his family felt “very comforted and supported” by the pope.
At the gala, John said he could not express “the honor we feel in accepting this award for Jimmy.” Though James Foley suffered tremendously for more than 20 months at the hands of his captors, his father said he believes his son is now free.
“(He is) free from the pain, the suffering, the beatings, the starvation. He’s free,” John said. “He ran his race, and he’s a winner.”