ROCHESTER, N.H. — For nearly two years, many in this community held out hope that James Foley, a pioneering photojournalist held captive in Syria, would return home safely, just as he had once before, after 44 days in captivity in Libya.
But on Sunday, that collective emotion was instead harnessed in a music-filled Mass of healing, hope, and peace in the 40-year-old’s honor. Signs of support, electronic and handmade, blanketed downtown as hundreds gathered to remember Foley. He was slain last week by Islamic terrorists, who posted a video announcing his beheading and said they killed him because the United States had launched airstrikes in northern Iraq.
Many who entered Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, the church of Foley’s parents, said they didn’t know the reporter but felt compelled to be near his family.
“I feel my soul is united to them,” said Sandra Harrington, who made the hourlong drive from her home in Manchester. She had followed news reports about Foley for months, stories of how he ventured into some of the world’s most dangerous regions to cover conflicts and the suffering of those affected.
“James Foley was like Christ,” said Harrington said. “He wanted to bring truth, and he suffered greatly.”
Inside the lobby of the church and an adjoining hall, posters with pictures of the reporter and messages from friends and strangers alike lined tables.
“I’ve never had the honor of knowing Jim personally,” wrote a young Canadian reporter . “I’ve looked up to him since 2010.”
A graduate school classmate wrote that Foley saw the humanity in every person and was a gift to everyone who knew him.
“And he’d probably laugh at that assessment, and say it’s far too generous,” wrote Leah Young. “But I still think it’s true, and I know that will outlive anything else.”
Nearly an hour before the service started, mourners packed the church, which holds 900, and spilled out the front doors.
In an unusual arrangement, Foley’s parents, acutely sensitive to the needs of the news media, set aside two rows of pews with signs saying: “Reserved for Press.”
Outside, Phil Balboni, the chief executive of GlobalPost, an international news agency for which Foley had freelanced, told reporters he was feeling “immense sadness,” and that his company was “rededicating ourselves” to telling the stories Foley felt compelled to cover.
“This is really a turning point,” Balboni said, for the world to see that the Islamic State poses a great threat.
Balboni said he understands that most people’s daily lives don’t intersect with the terror unfolding everyday overseas.
“It takes something shocking to make people connect,” he said. “Jim’s sacrifice has awakened the world that something needs to be done about this.”
As the service was about to get underway, word came on a separate front that the British ambassador to the United States said that authorities in the United Kingdom were narrowing in on the identity of the man who beheaded Foley.
“We are close,’’ the ambassador, Peter Westmacott, told CNN, in response to media reports that British intelligence had scrutinized the Foley beheading video for vocal and other clues to the identity of the hooded man, who spoke with a British accent in the video.
At the Mass, attended by a number of dignitaries including New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan , the focus was not on the way Foley died, but how he had lived his life.
Bishop Peter A. Libasci of Manchester told Foley’s parents, John and Diane, that life had come full circle, and the great hopes they felt when they watched their son being baptized so many years ago were still alive.
“As we gather here today, we remember James Foley, whose adult life exemplified that passion for God as we are all called,” he said.
“We are challenged to be true to our faith, especially when most challenged to doubt,” Libasci said. “We are challenged to see the world through a different lens.”
Speaking directly to the Foleys, seated at the front of the church, he referenced James Foley’s passion for telling others’ stories. “He went back again so that we may all open our eyes.”
At the end of the service, Foley’s parents stood and briefly addressed the gathering, thanking them for their prayers.
“Thank you,” Diane Foley said, “for loving Jim.”