During a solemn service Wednesday morning at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary here, more than 100 people gathered to grieve for slain photojournalist James Foley as the family’s priest urged the community to pray not only for his family but “for those who have perpetrated this kind of evil.”
News of the gruesome video of the American journalist’s beheading, which was released Tuesday by the militant group Islamic State, stunned this quiet New Hampshire community where residents have spent the nearly two years since Foley’s disappearance in Syria praying for his safe return.
“There is no sense to be made of senselessness; you cannot find any kind of sanity in insanity,” the Rev. Paul Gausse told parishioners during his homily. “War begets war, the only answer is in prayer.”
Gausse told the Roman Catholic congregation that he had joined Foley’s parents, Diane and John Foley, at their home in Rochester on Tuesday night. As he was leaving, he said, Diane Foley turned to him: “She said, ‘Father pray for me that I don’t become bitter. I don’t want to hate.’ That’s a woman of deep faith.”
He urged the congregation to follow her lead, noting that there was a danger for all Americans to “become bitter and hate.”
“We are not just praying for us and the Foley family, but praying for those who have perpetrated this kind of evil,” Gausse told the congregation as he stood near the first few pews below the altar. “These people need prayer. ... This is being done in the name of God. How insane can that be?”
“That kind of insanity is demonic, my brothers and sisters.”
The church has scheduled a “Holy Mass of Healing, Hope and for Peace” on Sunday and a memorial Mass for Foley on Oct. 18.
His mother released a statement Tuesday night saying that the family had “never been prouder of our son Jim,” who she said had given his life “trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people.”
She urged her son’s kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages in Syria. “Like Jim, they are innocents,” she said. “They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world.”
The family has asked the media to respect their privacy. At the family home in Rochester, a yellow ribbon was tied around a tree trunk in the front yard while another yellow ribbon decorated a wreath on the front door. A single candle was lit in an upstairs window early Wednesday morning.
The video released by Islamic State militants, which was briefly posted on YouTube before it was taken down, showed Foley kneeling in a desert landscape in attire resembling an orange jumpsuit. In a statement, presumably written by his captors, Foley told his parents not to take compensation from the people who “effectively hit the last nail in my coffin from their recent aerial campaign in Iraq.” It is unclear when the video was shot.
The masked and hooded militant in the video, who spoke with an English accent, charged President Obama with “placing American upon a slippery slope toward a new war front against Muslims,” according to a transcript posted by SITE Intelligence Group.
The video showed another American captive, who was identified as missing U.S. journalist Steven Joel Sotloff. The executioner in the video warns that the group will kill Sotloff if Obama does not act.
Foley disappeared in 2012 while working for the Boston-based GlobalPost. The family, with the help of the news organization and government officials, led a vigorous effort to bring him home safely.
Foley previously had been held in captivity in Libya for 44 days. When he was released, he spoke to congregants at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, telling them that he could feel their prayers while he was in captivity and that they had given him hope that he would be released.
Family friends and fellow parishioners said Wednesday morning after the service that his first release had given them hope that he would be freed by his captors in Syria.
“We have been praying for him for so many years,” said Marianne Bruneau, a family friend who works at the K-8 school that Foley attended as a youth. “They are a beautiful and faithful family.”
Joanne Rivers, a Rochester nurse who worked for nearly two decades with Foley’s father, a general practitioner, described the family as “very grounded.”
Foley’s parents and siblings respected his passion, she said, always supporting him as he traveled abroad in perilous regions. She noted that the family had organized numerous vigils in Rochester and across the country over the last two years.
“When he was captured,” Rivers said, “he became everyone’s son.”