The family of murdered US journalist James Foley prayed for the safety of his fellow hostages Sunday as hundreds gathered for a mass to celebrate his life as a witness on the front line.
Foley was kidnapped in late 2012 in northern Syria by the jihadist group that now dubs itself the Islamic State and which this week released a video showing him being beheaded.
The footage ended any remaining hopes that the 40-year-old freelancer, who contributed to the GlobalPost, AFP and other outlets, would be released alive after his ordeal.
But his parents said the death should serve as a challenge to others to match the courage and humanity Foley had shown reporting on the fate of beleaguered civilian populations in Libya and Syria.
As the mass was under way at the church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Rochester, New Hampshire overseen by the Bishop of Manchester Peter Libasci — who read a message from Pope Francis — another American reporter was released.
Peter Theo Curtis, 45, was released after two years held by a different Syrian group, but other hostages remain in the country, including Foley’s former cellmate Steven Sotloff, who was threatened with death in the video released last week.
“Jim stood for love and hope,” his mother Diane told AFP in the family home as James’ four surviving siblings and their partners and children gathered before the “healing mass.”
“I want to celebrate a life of bearing witness,” she said.
“So many people are suffering in the Middle East right now, and there are many hostages being held captive, so this is a mass for all of those who are hoping for peace, and also in Jim’s memory.”
Diane’s husband John said: “We pray for the surviving hostages and in particular Steven Sotloff. We’re just hopeful that something can be done to avoid Jim’s end.”
The couple were given a prolonged standing ovation by several hundred well-wishers after the service, many clearly moved by their dignified response after the cruel end to a long ordeal.
“His brutal death might be an awakening for the world,” his mother told AFP.
“The community of love needs to unite to protect these fearless journalists going out to these very dangerous places where we need to protect the people suffering in conflict.”
Both Bishop Libasci and Foley’s parents spoke of how his Catholic faith had been important to him, and that former hostages who spent time with him during his imprisonment said prayer had kept him strong and that he in turn had supported them.
Libasci told AFP that Foley had learned to “live what he believed and to be that voice of hope, be that encouragement, be that man of forgiveness, so he lived his faith as well as prayed it.”
Sunday’s mass was also attended, at the family’s invitation, by Syrian Americans from New Hampshire’s Muslim community, which the day before had held a public ceremony to thank Foley for his sacrifice in telling their country’s story.
John and Diane Foley said they would set up a charitable foundation in James’ name to support protection for freelance journalists in the field, and that his alma mater Marquette University plans to launch a James Foley scholarship.
They recalled that, alongside his journalism, Foley had raised funds for an ambulance for Syrian civilians and for the family of his colleague South African photo journalist Anton Hammerl, who was killed in Libya.
Diane Foley revealed that the Foley family had been distressed when James, who had himself been held for several weeks in Libya after seeing Hammerl shot, decided to go back first to Libya then to Syria.
She recalled in late 2012, before his last departure, pleading with him to “at least stay until Christmas.”
“He said, ‘Oh, Ma, I’ll be be back for Christmas, but I’ve got to go.’ He felt he had work to do,” she said.
Sotloff, a 31-year-old freelance reporter from Miami who had written for Time, Foreign Policy and other news magazines, was still alive when Foley’s execution video was shot.