Francis sends letter to family, which is read during Sunday memorial.
Just days after making a personal phone call to the family of slain journalist James Foley, Pope Francis wrote to the parents of the 40-year-old who was killed by Islamist terrorists last week.
The Holy See’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin sent a message of condolence, which was read out Sunday at a memorial Mass for Foley at the family’s parish in Rochester, New Hampshire.
“The Holy Father, deeply saddened by the death of James Wright Foley, asks you kindly to convey his personal condolences and the assurance of his closeness in prayer to James’ loved ones," read the letter. "He commends James to the loving mercy of God our Father, and joins all who mourn him in praying for an end to senseless violence and the dawn of reconciliation and peace among all the members of the human family. Upon the Foley family, and upon his friends and colleagues, he invokes the consolation and strength borne of our hope in Christ’s Resurrection.”
Hundreds of people attended the Mass, at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Church in Rochester, an hour’s drive northeast of Manchester, along with Foley’s parents, John and Diane Foley. New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan was in attendance, as were Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen, and Rep. Ann Kuster.
President Barack Obama sent no White House representative to the memorial, although he did send three White House aides to Monday’s funeral for Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African American fatally shot in an encounter with a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo.
“Jim was a journalist, a son, a brother, and a friend,” Obama said in a statement released last week following news of Foley’s death, “He reported from difficult and dangerous places, bearing witness to the lives of people a world away.”
Bishop Peter Libasci of Manchester, N.H., said during Sunday’s Mass that Foley was living his faith by bringing images to the world of people suffering from war and oppressive regimes. Even after Foley was captured for the first time in Libya in 2011, he “went back again that we might open our eyes,” Bishop Libasci said.
Foley was kidnapped on Thanksgiving Day 2012 while covering the Syrian uprising. The Islamic State posted a Web video Tuesday showing his killing and said it was in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq.
Bishop Libasci invoked the prayer of St. Francis, which begins, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,” to implore the gathered not to hate but to heal.
“It is in giving that we receive,” he recited. “It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. It is in dying that we are born to eternal life. To these words, I think we can say, ‘Yes, I wish we could do that.’ It is not beyond our capability. It is not impossible. Our Lord lived it. Our most Blessed Mother lived it. Many saints have lived it. James lived it.”
The bishop frequently addressed Foley’s parents and stressed their son’s connection to family. He also prayed for another captive journalist, Steven Sotloff, whom ISIS threatens to kill if the US keeps up its airstrikes, and all captives.
“Jim went back again that we might open our eyes,” Libasci said. “That we might indeed know how precious is this gift. May almighty God grant peace to James and to all our fragile world.”
At a vigil Saturday night in Rochester, about 200 people gathered to show support for the Foley family.
“We are honored that you care and love Jim. We are honored that you recognized the sacrifices he made,” John Foley said at the vigil. “He loved the Syrian people. He was devoted to telling their story and doing whatever he could to help their fight.”
Earlier in the week Pope Francis made a private phone call to Foley’s parents, to personally express his condolences.
Foley has been remembered as a young man who was motivated to help the less fortunate, a quality apparently awakened when he began studies at Jesuit-run Marquette University, where a memorial service is planned for Tuesday evening.
Bill Thorn, associate professor of journalism, remembers when Foley came back to speak at his alma mater in 2011. He had been in prison in Libya, accused by the regime of spying.
“He talked about the importance of journalism and dealing with the kinds of poverty and the kinds of tragedies that humans were suffering in Libya because he documented that stuff,” Thorn said in an interview. “He wanted to go where people were suffering and tell the story in the hopes of changing things.”
Thorn, who was chairman of the journalism department when Foley was there, said the young history major got involved in social justice-oriented activities when he came to Marquette such as teaching reading in after-school programs.
“He said he didn’t realize how privileged his life was until he started working with the poor, that he felt like he had missed out on a whole part of the world and needed to correct things,” Thorn said. “It’s all part of that Jesuit push to be a man for others.
Marquette has published a widely-cited letter that Foley wrote recounting how he learned the value of praying the rosary while in the Libyan prison.
"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," he wrote.
"He was a bit different from some of the traditional war reporters, who have gone into battle knowing that their life is at risk but do it anyway because the story has to be told," Thorn commented. "He went in to reveal some of the injustice."
“He was extraordinarily passionate and kind, determined and straight-forward, honorable and faithful,” said Mark Sedarski, a Milwaukee area public relations specialist who knew Foley at Marquette.
Foley reported for the media outlet GlobalPost, whose co-founder Charlie Sennott told WBZ-TV Foley’s family had shown great strength.
“His family has an extraordinary faith. And that faith is really the only light that seems to be piercing through all the darkness that surrounded the death of Jim Foley,” Sennott said.
A funeral for Foley will be Oct. 18, what would have been his 41st birthday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.