Slain journalist’s mother urges moral courage at Women’s Conference

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This story has been updated.

After the brutal and public murder of her son, journalist James Foley, Diane Foley was tempted to be bitter. But instead she clung to God, something she encouraged all women to do, no matter their cross, when she spoke at the 2018 women’s conference, “From Darkness into Light.” More than 700 women attended the conference sponsored by the Office of Marriage, Family and Respect Life and held at St. Joseph Church in Herndon March 10.  

In addition to the talks, the women had the opportunity to go to confession, and attended morning Mass with Bishop Michael F. Burbidge. In his homily, he spoke about the importance of humility, as seen in the wonderful example of the tax collectors as well as Mary and Christ.

“Humility reminds us that in the end, the only thing that truly matters is that we’re found pleasing in the sight of God,” he said. “May we with all humility say, ‘Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ And may we go forth in intimation of Jesus, and wash the feet of one another.”  

In her talk, Diane shared about her faith life, and the trials she and her family endured when her son Jim was kidnapped. In 2011, Jim was taken while covering the conflict in Libya, but was freed after 44 days. Diane, a wife and mother of five, urged Jim to avoid reporting in dangerous areas, but he was committed. “Mom, I have found my passion,” he told her. 

“Jim’s life challenges me as an American … to care about the courageous journalists who bring up world news, and to inspire all of us to be people of moral courage and compassion,” she said.

In March 2012, Jim vanished while working in Syria. “We didn’t know if he was dead or alive for the next 10 months. We never heard his voice again,” she said. Soon after, Diane quit her job to advocate of behalf of her son’s release “to anyone who would listen,” she said.

In October 2013, two former Islamic State group prisoners let the family know that Jim was alive in an Aleppo prison. Months later, the Foleys received their first email from the captors asking for a hefty ransom. Diane continued to petition government officials for help.  

In 2014, a young Danish photographer who spent time in prison with Jim delivered a message to the Foleys. It would be the last thing they heard from their son but the gift of his words was “an answer to prayer,” she said. 

In July, during time in adoration, Diane decided to surrender her desire for Jim’s freedom to God. “I felt a strange peace that God would take care of him,” she said. Weeks later, to international shock and horror, a video of Jim’s beheading appeared on YouTube. 

Diane and her family were devastated by the news, but overwhelmed by the support they were shown by their community and strangers. “That was when the legion of angels descended upon us,” she said. “Thousands of cards from all over the world, buckets of mail, hand-painted portraits of Jim, hundreds of Mass cards and children’s drawings. All this helped me feel God’s presence again —  the same peace I felt when I surrendered Jim. I knew God had freed him in the only way possible.”

Since her son’s death, Diane has prayed for the grace to stay hopeful. “We have a choice when we suffer — we can grow bitter or we can choose God’s loving mercy to teach us how to begin,” she said.  “It’s a process, but the choice is always ours. Do we continue the cycle of vengeance and violence and hatred, or do we pray for the grace to resist bitterness and seek mercy and forgiveness?”

Another speaker, Sister of Life Grace Dominic, spoke to the women about the power of knowing their identity in Christ. She shared the story of her fellow sister, who was asked one day by a kindergartener why she wore a veil. The sister began to explain that the veil was like a wedding veil and that she was a bride of Christ. With surprise and confusion, the little girl asked, “He chose you?” 

“Isn’t this true for each of us?” asked Sister Grace, a former Catholic Herald staff writer. Each person is called by God and those who believe in Him are given a place in His family and a part of His inheritance. “You are a beloved daughter, known and loved. There are two truths in life, and I’m not talking about death and taxes,” she said. “You are loved and you have the capacity (to love).” 

Hayres Albert, a parishioner of St. Joseph in Herndon, felt enlightened by both speakers. “Sister Grace — I feel her love and she talked about it very well, sharing how we should feel the love of Jesus. Mrs. Foley somehow shared the same thing because of how she forgave the captors of her son,” she said. “Most of us were mothers (or) grandmothers, and I think we all feel her pain.”

Albert was also inspired by the sheer number of women in attendance. “I came here today because I find it special to be around other women in this capacity,” she said. “I’m looking forward to going next year, God willing.”

See more photos at catholicherald.smugmug.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018

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