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James Foley: Prayer in prison

James Foley, the US journalist who was brutally murdered in Iraq, wrote movingly of what he owed to Marquette, the Jesuit University which taught him, among other things, the power of prayer:

“Marquette 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 center 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. I was able to make one phone call to my Mom. 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. 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.”