RUSSERT-FOLEY Jun-16-2008 (470 words) With photos posted June 13. xxxi
Cardinal Foley calls friend Russert 'one of the greatest journalists'
By John Thavis
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- U.S. Cardinal John P. Foley had lunch in Rome with Tim Russert and his family June 11, renewing ties of friendship that went back 24 years.
Two days later, the 58-year-old Russert collapsed and died of a heart attack back in his NBC office in Washington. Cardinal Foley, shocked and saddened like many others, said journalism had lost one of its best.
"It's the loss of one of the greatest journalists in the United States, if not the greatest. He was always kind and gracious, but he always got revealing material from people," Cardinal Foley told Catholic News Service.
The cardinal thought so highly of Russert that he tried to help him get a papal interview -- first with Pope John Paul II and then Pope Benedict XVI. He thought Russert's persistent questioning style would have highlighted the message of both pontiffs.
"He was always respectful of the individuals he was interviewing, but he didn't let them off the hook. He always went for the truth and went for an illuminating answer," Cardinal Foley said.
"And I thought, the pope had a lot of truth to share. It would have been wonderful if that opportunity had occurred, but it didn't," he said.
Russert, the NBC News Washington bureau chief and "Meet the Press" moderator, was in Rome on vacation with his wife, Maureen Orth, and their son, Luke, whom Cardinal Foley baptized in New York some 22 years ago. After their lunch together, the cardinal took them to an internal entrance to the Sistine Chapel and sent them on their way.
Cardinal Foley, grand master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, said he first met Russert in 1984. Then-Archbishop Foley was head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and Russert had come with a proposal to bring NBC's "Today" show to Rome for Easter 1985.
"We worked to make that happen," Cardinal Foley recalled. "NBC has been back for a number of things since then, and we worked with him."
Over the years, Cardinal Foley said he came to consider Russert the best interviewer in television, someone who drew information out of people without badgering or demeaning them.
Russert was also "never ashamed to be identified as a Catholic, which I think is very important," Cardinal Foley said.
"There are a number of people who want to keep sort of hidden, but not Tim. He was always proud of the fact that he was Catholic," the cardinal said.
"That was one of the reasons he wanted to interview the popes, to help make what they were saying more public. It was an act of loyalty on his part, not an act of exploitation," he said.
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