Our sensibilities were jarred to the core this past week as news broke that ISIS terrorists had brutally beheaded American journalist James Foley. Foley had been in the terrorists' custody for two years prior to his assassination (unmercifully telecast around the world via video).
This however, was not his first capture. Foley had been taken captive in Libya in 2011, where he was held for some 45 days.
Following his release, he penned a letter to Marquette University describing the impact prayer had in sustaining, and ultimately liberating him from his ordeal. The letter reads, in part, as follows:
One night, 18 days into our captivity, some guards brought me out of the cell. … Upstairs in the warden’s office, a distinguished man in a suit stood and said, “We felt you might want to call your families.”
I said a final prayer and dialed the number. My mom answered the phone. “Mom, Mom, it’s me, Jim.”
“Jimmy, where are you?”
“I’m still in Libya, Mom. I’m sorry about this. So sorry.” …
I told her. “I’ve been praying for you to know that I’m OK,” I said. “Haven’t you felt my prayers?”
“Oh, Jimmy, so many people are praying for you. All your friends, Donnie, Michael Joyce, Dan Hanrahan, Suree, Tom Durkin, Sarah Fang have been calling. Your brother Michael loves you so much.” ...
“They’re having a prayer vigil for you at Marquette. Don’t you feel our prayers?” she asked.
“I do, Mom, I feel them,” and I thought about this for a second. Maybe it was others’ prayers strengthening me, keeping me afloat.
The official made a motion. I started to say goodbye. Mom started to cry. “Mom, I’m strong. I’m OK. I should be home by Katie’s graduation,” which was a month away.
“We love you, Jim!” she said. Then I hung up.
I replayed that call hundreds of times in my head — my mother’s voice, the names of my friends, her knowledge of our situation, her absolute belief in the power of prayer. She told me my friends had gathered to do anything they could to help. I knew I wasn’t alone.
My last night in Tripoli, I had my first Internet connection in 44 days and was able to listen to a speech Tom Durkin gave for me at the Marquette vigil. To a church full of friends, alums, priests, students and faculty, I watched the best speech a brother could give for another. It felt like a best man speech and a eulogy in one. It showed tremendous heart and was just a glimpse of the efforts and prayers people were pouring forth. 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.
We can only hope and "pray" that the same dedication to prayer was the "glue" that gave him "inner freedom" to sustain him till he breathed his last at the hands of his captors, at which time he received his ultimate "release."
As James himself said, in those moments when nothing else in life makes sense, faith does! Rest in peace, James Foley, and all those who look to Christ for their ultimate freedom.
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:4-7).