ColumnistsFr. Brian D’Arcy

Foley’s faith is a true inspiration

James Foley was an inspiration
James Foley was an inspiration

During our very busy Novena of Hope I was searching for an inspirational story and found, almost by accident, inspiring background information about American journalist James Foley.

I say “almost by accident” because I believe that a higher power directs our search for genuine inspiration.

Last August a disturbing video entitled, “A message to America” appeared on the internet. The freelance journalist James Foley was kneeling in front of the camera. With him was an executioner, entirely in black, who identifies himself as a member of Islamic State just before he decapitates the prisoner.

Thousands of miles away in Rochester, New Hampshire, John and Diane Foley were being comforted by their Pastor, Fr Paul Gousse.

Remembering the incident, the priest was himself inspired by how Foley’s mother Diane accepted the terrible news. She asked the priest to pray for her and her family that they would never become bitter. “That’s the kind of family they are,” Fr Paul concluded.

That day the family issued a statement highlighting how their son James “gave his life trying to expose to the world the suffering of the Syrian people. We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages and we thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person”.

From all I’ve read about Foley he was indeed an exceptional man. Those who worked with him recognised two absolutes in his life – his family and his faith. John and Diane Foley taught their children to care for others and to work for justice because they themselves came from a well-off background.

Their son James attended Marquette College, a Jesuit school in Milwaukee, famous for its dedication to social justice. When James graduated from Marquette College in 1996 he went on to teach voluntarily for a non-profit organisation with a mission to “build the movement to eliminate educational inequity”.

Years later James changed focus to journalism. He graduated from the School of Journalism in 2008 and went on to teach English to the inmates in Cook County Jail in Chicago.

In 2011 James, together with an American journalist, a Spanish photographer and a South African photo journalist, were detained by Gaddafi supporters in Libya. James was held for 44 days and it was during this time that he began to realise how important his faith was to him.

They were released without explanation in May 2011. James wrote: “I began to pray the Rosary whilst in captivity. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. I said ten Hail Mary’s between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour, to count 100 Hail Mary’s. It helped to keep my mind focused.”

When he returned home his family, naturally, wanted him to find a less dangerous employment in journalism. His local priest tried to convince him not to go back. But Foley told the priest: “Father I need to go back because the world needs to know the plight of people who are being walked on.”

It was that decision which led to capture and cruel decapitation last August in Syria. 

After his death his parents established the James Foley Fund. They hope it will ensure their son will not be forgotten.

The story was a reminder to me that there are always dedicated, heroic, faith-filled young people who risk everything, including life itself, in the cause of justice.