By Father John Catoir
Fred Rogers was a good friend for many years. He entertained and educated children for more than a generation, and died on Feb. 27, 2003.
When he came to New York we often had dinner together. It’s my privilege to introduce him to you again today. Children still love him and parents trust him.
The theme song of his TV show, “Mr. Rogers’s Neighborhood,”contained the words, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” When I interviewed him on my TV show, the conversation went something like this:
JC: Why did you choose that opening?
FR: When I hear words like those, I think the person speaking them cares about me. And I want them to know that I care about them and all children. I want them to feel that each one of them is special.
JC: How do you select the themes for your show?
FR: Many ideas come from the mail we receive. Who would have thought years ago that we would one day do a whole show on divorce? But children need to know that it is not their fault when their parents separate. Little children tend to think that the world revolves around them. And so consequently anything that happens to them must be because of them, as though the divorce was their fault. They think that it must be “something I did.” If a child spills the milk at breakfast and it leads to loud talking between the parents, the child thinks he or she was at fault for causing the breakup. We try to get through to them that divorce is something that only has to do with adults, not children.
JC: Your new book was entitled “You are Special.” Tell us a little about it.
FR: I’ve collected lots of quotes over the last past years, and they all describe how I feel about the person I am with at the moment. It is one of the most glorious things you can do in life; make the person you are with feel special. Evil in the world would want us to feel as awful as we could about who we are. But Jesus wants us to look at ourselves, and our neighbor, and see the best. How wonderful it would be if we all became an advocate in life rather than an accuser.
JC: I like that. You presume there is an evil power in the world, and you know how to deal with it. You never put on a false front. Fred, is there anything else you try to do for the children.
FR: I think we have to provide them with heroes, like teachers who really believe they have a mission, and that the only reason they are in the classroom are to help the children. I bring on community leaders who see a local gang as nothing more than a cluster of kids trying to make it through life. I bring on policemen and firemen who take care of all of us. Heroes are important in life, because we all need to look up to people. Many of the people we have on our show are unsung heroes.
JC: Thank you Fred Rogers for this delightful interview.
Father John Catoir is a retired priest of the Paterson Diocese.