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 CNS Story:

SOCIAL-RUSSERT Feb-24-2005 (630 words) With photo. xxxn

Making world better for children a necessary goal, says NBC's Russert

By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- NBC News Washington bureau chief and "Meet the Press" moderator Tim Russert said America's principal task is to make a better world for its young people.

"If there's an issue that Democrats, Republicans, conservatives and liberals can agree on, it's our kids," Russert said Feb. 22 in an address at the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, co-sponsored by five agencies of the U.S. bishops' conference and nine national Catholic organizations.

With "15 million kids largely living off the streets" and 12 youths shot dead daily in the United States, addressing the issue is imperative, Russert said.

"Who are our children? How do we get into their hearts and minds," Russert asked, "to get them to see the value of our values?"

In dealing with his own son, Luke, Russert added that he tells him, "You are always, always loved, but you are never entitled."

Russert, a Catholic, listed "schools that are worth attending" at the top of a long list of priorities aimed at improving the lives of America's young. He ended the list with "a little bit of tough love."

In his remarks, Russert spoke often of the tough love sent his way by his father and teachers at his parish grade school and Jesuit high school in his home town of Buffalo, N.Y.

He said Sister Mary Lucille, Russert's seventh-grade teacher at St. Bonaventure Grade School, summoned him one day to the front of the classroom and told him, "Timothy, we need an alternative vehicle to channel your excessive energy." That led her to start a school newspaper for which he wrote. "That's when I learned to love writing," Russert said.

The newspaper's second issue was published November 1963, after President John Kennedy was assassinated. Copies were sent to Kennedy's widow, Jacqueline, and to his successor as president, Lyndon B. Johnson. "We got letters back" from both of them, Russert said, sounding still amazed by it. "We were amazed at the power of a little newspaper."

Russert's father, known to Americans as "Big Russ" from the best-selling book "Big Russ and Me," worked two full-time jobs to provide for his family. One of them was driving a truck; Big Russ often made deliveries to Canisius High School "on the other side of town," Russert recalled. "His dream was to someday go through the front door, and finally he did -- on the day I graduated."

But Russert recalled the day when, as a new freshman at Canisius, he was bemoaning to his parents a dressing-down he had just received from Jesuit Father John Sturm. Instead of eliciting sympathy, Russert said his father told him, "You're grounded for two weeks."

Through his education at St. Bonaventure and Canisius, Russert said, he was "taught to read and write, but also to know the difference between right and wrong."

Even in the high-profile world of television, Russert said, "you do not have to leave your value system, your faith, at the front door. You bring who you are to whatever table you sit at."

In introducing Russert, Mercy Sister Lourdes Sheehan, an associate general secretary of the U.S. bishops' conference, said, "Amazingly, he got John McCain and Hillary Clinton to admit that the other would make a good president," referring to the Republican senator from Arizona and the Democratic senator from New York, respectively.

She also lauded Russert as "an example of what our faith calls us to be: the salt of the earth, a light to the world, a leaven for our society."

Although Russert took no questions from the audience after his remarks, he did accept a blessing from them, led by Msgr. Ray East, director of the Office of Black Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington.

END


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