U.S. journalist James Foley speaks at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill., after being released from imprisonment in Libya in 2011. Foley, a freelance war correspondent from New Hampshire and a Marquette University alum, was killed at the hands of the Islamic State militant group. (CNS photo/Tommy Giglio, Northwestern University via Reuters)
U.S. journalist James Foley speaks at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill., after being released from imprisonment in Libya in 2011. Foley, a freelance war correspondent from New Hampshire and a Marquette University alum, was killed at the hands of the Islamic State militant group. (CNS photo/Tommy Giglio, Northwestern University via Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis phoned the bereaved family of a U.S. journalist killed by Islamic State militants in Syria.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the pope phoned relatives of the late James Foley on Aug. 21 to console them for their loss and assure them of his prayers.

Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, assistant director of the Vatican press office, told reporters the next day that the pope’s call came shortly after 2 p.m. New Hampshire time, and that the conversation was “long and intense.”

Pope Francis was particularly “struck by the faith” of the late journalist’s mother, Diane Foley, the spokesman said. The pope spoke with her and the deceased’s father, John Foley, through an interpreter. At one point, an unidentified family member came on the line and was able to converse with the pope directly in Spanish.

American journalist James Foley is pictured in an undated photo. (CNS photo/Nicole Tung, courtesy GlobalPost via EPA)
American journalist James Foley is pictured in an undated photo. (CNS photo/Nicole Tung, courtesy GlobalPost via EPA)

According to The Associated Press, U.S. officials confirmed a graphic video released Aug. 19 that showed Islamic State fighters beheading Foley, a 1996 graduate of Marquette University who had been a freelance journalist for the past several years, mostly in the world’s trouble spots. In 2011, he was kidnapped on a Libyan battlefield and held captive in Tripoli for 45 days.

Sometime in late 2012, he went missing in Syria. The last time his family heard from him was before Thanksgiving that year.

The Islamic State militants said they killed Foley in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes on their strongholds, and the group threatened to kill another U.S. hostage also shown in the video.

President Obama called Foley’s parents Aug. 20 before addressing the nation about their son’s death and told them: “We are all heartbroken.”

When Obama was making his televised remarks about James Foley’s death, his parents spoke to reporters on the front yard of their home.

“We thank God for the gift of Jim. We are so, so proud of him,” said Diane Foley.

She added that he was “a courageous, fearless journalist — the best of America.”

John Foley told reporters: “We think his strength came from God,” and his wife interjected: “We know it did.”

His father also described how their son not only wanted to humanize the wars he was covering but would also “take a bullet” for any of his colleagues.

“It’s not difficult to find solace,” his father added, saying he knows his son is “in God’s hands.”

He said it is now up to others to “pick up the gauntlet” and continue the work his son was doing.

— By Francis X. Rocca, Catholic News Service.

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