VATICAN CITY — The parents of freelance journalist James Foley, who was beheaded by ISIS terrorists earlier this week, were “deeply moved and grateful” for Pope Francis’ telephone call yesterday, a Vatican spokesman has said.
The director of the Holy See Press Office, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, confirmed last night that the Holy Father called Foley’s family in New Hampshire to console them on the loss of their son. Diane and John Foley received the Pope’s call at about 3pm Thursday afternoon, local time.
“He was very compassionate, very loving,” said a priest friend of the family, Father Marc Montminy, of St. Michael’s Church in Exeter. Father Montminy added that Pope Francis spoke to the Foleys through a translator for about 20 minutes, offering comfort to the devout Catholic couple, the New York Daily News reported.
On Aug. 19, the Islamic State (IS), a militant group that controls territory in Syria and Iraq, released a graphic video titled “A Message to America,” which shows the beheading of Foley, who went missing in Syria in 2012. U.S. officials confirmed the authenticity of the video.
The terrorist group said that Foley’s execution was in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq. They warned that they have another missing American journalist, Steven Joel Sotloff, in captivity, saying that his life depends on President Barack Obama’s actions.
Mom: We’ve ‘Never Been Prouder’
Writing yesterday on a Facebook page set up to campaign for his release, Diane Foley paid tribute to her son, saying she and her family “have never been prouder of our son Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people.”
She added: “We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages. Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world. 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.”
In comments elsewhere, Diane said she and her family prayed to God for strength and were grateful that “God has given us so many prayers” throughout James’ captivity.
“Jim would never want us to hate or be bitter. We’re praying for the strength to love like he did,” she said.
“It’s not difficult to find solace in this point in time,” John Foley stated. “We know he is in God’s hands, and we know he’s done God’s work.”
“We need the courage and prayers now to continue without him,” he added.
Praying the Rosary
At a news conference outside their home in Rochester, N.H., Diane Foley said “James felt compelled to bear witness to people in conflict.”
“He died for that compassion and love,” she added. “We want him to be remembered as a compassionate individual.”
Foley, who was Catholic, had written about how he prayed the Rosary during his imprisonment in Libya in 2011. Referring to his mother’s strong faith and the prayers of his friends and family at the time, he wrote in his alumni magazine, Marquette: “It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone.
“If nothing else, 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.”
Philip Balboni, CEO of GlobalPost, his employer, also paid tribute to Foley, speaking of his “incredible courage” in front of his executioner. His “never flinching” in the face of a gruesome death “needs to be honored,” he said.
Speaking to NPR, Balboni said it was “universal among all of the released hostages that we talked to that Jim was their favorite, the person whose spirits — no matter what punishment was inflicted on him, and he was regularly singled out for very harsh treatment; I won't go into the details, but he was regularly subject to abuse — but he always kept their spirits up.”
Added Balboni, “He always kept them believing that they would get out, and he tried to be a spokesperson with the captors for the other hostages and to keep their morale up.”
Martyr for Freedom
John Foley said his family believes Jim to be “a martyr — a martyr for freedom.”
“I’m sure he didn’t shrink from the situation,” he said.
ISIS reportedly demanded a $132-million ransom from Foley’s family and GlobalPost. Balboni said the company spent millions on efforts to bring him home and that he and the Foley family were willing to try and raise the money.
In July, President Obama launched a U.S. Special Forces operation to rescue Foley and other hostages. A number of militants were killed in a firefight, but Foley and the other hostages could not be found. The operation was only revealed after Foley’s death.
Pope Francis has made a number of telephone calls to relatives of individual victims of tragedies to offer them his condolences. Last year, he called the parents of an Italian solider killed in Afghanistan. His parents said they felt the call was like a conversation with one’s father.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.