updated 08/22/2014 AT 7:00 AM ET
•originally published 08/22/2014 AT 7:50 AM ET
The parents of James Foley, the American journalist beheaded by militants in the Middle East, said Friday that his remarkable bravery was an answer to the prayers of many – even as their hope turned to horror this week.
John and Diane Foley told the Today show that they were initially glad to hear from their son’s captors a week before he was executed, having heard nothing from them since December.
“I actually was excited to see an email, despite the conclusion that they would execute Jim,” John said. “I underestimated that. I did not realize how brutal they were. And I actually hoped we could engage in negotiations with them.”
That, of course, did not happen. Instead, the Islamic State militants murdered Foley and released a video of the grisly crime.
His parents were devastated, but took comfort in knowing Jim had been a rock for other prisoners held by ISIS – even as he reportedly took the most abuse because he was American.
“Jim’s courage, and particularly his compassion and love in that box, which they called it, was an answer to prayer,” Diane said. “We had so many people praying for Jimmy. We had begged for prayer, but we didn’t need to. Everyone was so good, and praying, and Jim’s strength and love was the answer to prayer. Jim was held up by all that prayer.”
In addition to speaking with President Obama, the Foleys also got a call from Pope Francis, who lost family members himself in a car accident in Argentina this month.
“Pope Francis was so dear, because he is grieving himself, having just lost three members of his family, and his nephew critically ill,” Diane said. “So here, in the midst of his tremendous grief, he took the time to call. He was just so kind.”
“He offered us his personal prayer, and we felt very comforted and supported in that regard,” John added.
The Foleys also expressed their hopes for Steven Sotloff, another journalist being held captive, and other American prisoners. “We pray strongly that everything possible can be done to save [them],” John said.
Finally, they added that they are honoring Jim’s legacy in a concrete way.
“Jim will live on,” said Diane. “We’re going to establish a fund in his memory, so that his compassion can live on.”