Tag Archive: death


AMDG

This letter from Marquette University 1996 graduate and journalist James Foley was published in Marquette Magazine’s fall 2011 issue after he returned safely from Libya, where he had been captured. Foley was kidnapped again in November 2012 while covering the Syrian civil war. He was executed this week by Islamic militants.

26514236-mjs_foley_02_nws_wood_foley-2b6q92oMarquette University has always been a friend to me. The kind who challenges you to do more and be better and ultimately shapes who you become.  With Marquette, I went on some volunteer trips to South Dakota and Mississippi and learned I was a sheltered kid and the world had real problems. I came to know young people who wanted to give their hearts for others. Later I volunteered in a Milwaukee junior high school up the street from the university and was inspired to become an inner-city teacher. But Marquette was perhaps never a bigger friend to me than when I was imprisoned as a journalist. Myself and two colleagues had been captured and were being held in a military detention centre in Tripoli. Each day brought increasing worry that our moms would begin to panic. My colleague, Clare, was supposed to call her mom on her birthday, which was the day after we were captured. I had still not fully admitted to myself that my mom knew what had happened. But I kept telling Clare my mom had a strong faith.

I prayed she’d know I was OK. I prayed I could communicate through some cosmic reach of the universe to her. I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused. Clare and I prayed together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone. Later we were taken to another prison where the regime kept hundreds of political prisoners. I was quickly welcomed by the other prisoners and treated well. One night, 18 days into our captivity, some guards brought me out of the cell. In the hall I saw Manu, another colleague, for the first time in a week. We were haggard but overjoyed to see each other. Upstairs in the warden’s office, a distinguished man in a suit stood and said, “We felt you might want to call your families.”

download (7)I said a final prayer and dialled 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.” – “Don’t be sorry, Jim,” she pleaded. “Oh, Daddy just left. Oh … He so wants to talk to you. How are you, Jim?” I told her I was being fed, that I was getting the best bed and being treated like a guest. – “Are they making you say these things, Jim?” – “No, the Libyans are beautiful people,” 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.” She started to cry. “The Turkish embassy is trying to see you and also Human Rights Watch. Did you see them?” I said I hadn’t. – “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.

AMDG

14415774496_6eeb3942fa_mBoth the first week and the third week of the exercises focus us on the reality of disorder in the world – in our own lives (in the first week) and the disorder and violence that leads to Christ Passion and death in the third week.  The horrific flood of headlines at the moment about so much violence in the world, fuelled by land and religion.  The suffering of the most vulnerable, the poor, women and children, remind us that to be in denial about sin in the world is irresponsible.  What has changed though is the advent of social media – that as more and more of us live our lives on-line, we are leaving a record of our actions and experiences for good or ill.  Andrew Keen , in his excellent book ‘Digital Vertigo’, claims that we are now living in an age of exhibitionism – and it seems that what we are exhibiting is not always good and noble.

The last couple of years I have been giving talks to students and teachers about the importance of cleaning up their ‘digital footprint’.  A chaplain I worked with once, was very good at being a benign presence on social  media.  He would often log on – on a Sat morning and gently suggest that drunken photos might want to be deleted.  I often remind students that when they apply for a job, their CV’s are less important to their employers than their facebook profile.  I have heard countless stories of how prospective employers have binned piles of CV’s without even looking at them after exploring the candidates Digital Footprint.

Recently what has been shocking has been the use of ISIS of social media as a way of spreading fear.   Videos and pictures posted on the internet – of grisly beheadings, summary executions are shockingly mainstream.  It maybe one of the reasons that the Iraqi army crumbled so quickly whilst the ISIS forces advanced so rapidly.  When these shocking videos started appearing on the internet during the Chechen War, it was pretty difficult to stumble upon them, now they appear on twitter feeds and facebook updates without warning. They should be taken down as soon as they can.  And when these ‘tourist’ jihadists return home the evidence they have indicted themselves with should be used to convict them of war crimes.  Interestingly this article argues that images on a Russian Soldiers Instagram account seem to offer evidence that could point towards Russian involvement of the Malayasian Airline tragedy.

Breaking the Chain of Hate

AMDG

download1I read a book a few years ago which had a profound effect on me.  ‘Forgiveness – Breaking the Chain of Hate‘ by Michael Henderson looks at the lives of dozens of remarkable people of many nations and faiths who have been able to break the chain of hate through repentance and forgiveness.  They included survivors of the Burma Road, the Siberian Gulag and Nazi atrocities.   This for me is the key to life of Nelson Mandela which is being celebrated today.  One of the most eloquent testimonies has been Archbishop Desmond Tutu, you can watch it below, but for me he identifies this remarkable inner transformation that took place in prison. To my ears it is similar to the transformation that can happen in the silence of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius.   ‘The crucible of prison added a deep understanding of the human condition and a profound ability to emphasize ….. like a most precious diamond honed deep beneath the surface of the Earth – The Madiba who emerged from prison in 1990 was virtually flawless.  When you thing that he went to prison as an angry young man and he emerged as an icon of magnanimity and compassion‘.  The whole interview is below: the first few minutes are dynamite! 

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