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James Foley’s mother visits Rome to thank Pope Francis

Dominic Rueter/AFP
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Diane Foley relates how family got through ordeal of losing son to ISIS

The death of James Foley was one of the most high-profile beheadings carried out by the Islamic State group when it had gained control of large areas of Iraq and Syria in 2014. The American photojournalist was held by ISIS from November 2012 until his death in August 2014.

His beheading caught the attention of Pope Francis, who telephoned Foley’s parents to express his condolences, prayers and closeness.

Foley’s mother has finally had a chance to personally thank Pope Francis for his support.

Diane Foley, who heads a foundation established in her son’s honor, came to Rome to promote a documentary about her son’s life, Religion News Service reported. She met the pope after attending Mass at the Santa Marta residence in the Vatican on Friday.

“It was such a gift to be in the presence of such a holy man,” Foley told RNS on Monday. “I hadn’t had a chance to thank him. For me it was profound.”

Foley said her family had been deeply moved when the pope called them two and a half years ago. “It was just very beautiful that he called to tell us how sorry he was and how we were in his prayers and how Jim had truly been a martyr,” she said.

But the pontiff was only “one of the good people, among the many hundreds of good people who lifted us up after Jim’s death,” Foley said. “He was one of the voices of love. I was just so touched.”

James Foley was 40 when he disappeared. His captors demanded a ransom payment of $132.5 million, but the United States does not allow such payments, so as not to encourage more kidnappings. ISIS said Foley’s execution was in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes on the Islamic group’s positions in northern Iraq.

A recent HBO documentary, Jim: The James Foley Story, focuses on two primary concerns in Foley’s life: his faith and his calling to help others. Growing up in a Catholic family in Rochester, New Hampshire, he volunteered for Teach for America, a program that recruits college graduates and professionals to tutor in inner-city and rural communities.

But he saw journalism as a calling. Some of his colleagues testified that he went into the field in order to help bring light to people’s sufferings.

That calling came with risks. In 2011, Foley was held for 44 days by kidnappers in Libya. He later described how he and a fellow captive prayed the Rosary to maintain their hope and sanity at that time.

“It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles,” Foley said, “and it helped to keep my mind focused.”

“After he had been released from prison in Libya, he came back to Marquette to talk to the students,” recalled Bill Thorn, a professor at Marquette University, Foley’s alma mater, in an Aleteia interview shortly after the execution. “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…. That’s probably why he got arrested and jailed in Libya.”

Like her son, Diane Foley said her faith had helped her through the trauma of losing the young man.

“Without my faith I don’t know if I could have survived to be honest,” she said. “It has carried me through. To have the head of the Catholic faith reach out to me is so humbling when you think of all the tragedies in the world.”

Her James W. Foley Legacy Foundation fights for journalists’ safety and protection and the safe return of U.S. hostages abroad.

 

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