June 10th, 2010
11:39 AM ET

Empire State Building declines to light up for Mother Teresa

CNN's Mythili Rao reports from New York:

August marks what would have been Mother Teresa's 100th birthday, with commemorative masses, exhibitions and other events around the world heralding the occasion. But count the Empire State Building out of the celebrations.

New York City's tallest skyscraper has declined to shine the colorful, festive lights that it reserves for special occasions in her honor, leaving some of the nun's followers feeling slighted.

"Selection as an Empire State Building Lighting Partner is at the sole discretion of the ownership and management of the Empire State Building Company LLC," the privately owned building's website says. The site says that selection is "a privilege, not an entitlement."

Outside its practice of lightings for Christmas, Easter, Hanukkah and Eid al-Fitr (the end of Ramadan), the Empire State Building "has a specific policy against any other lighting for religious figures or requests by religions and religious organizations," ESB owner Anthony E. Malkin said in a statement.

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League For Religious and Civil Rights, called the decision "mind-boggling" and "indefensible and obscene," speculating that anti-Catholic bigotry was at play.

"Malkin has made his decision to stiff Catholics," Donohue said. "His decision to double down at this juncture - in the face of massive support for our request - is something he will regret for the rest of his life."

The Catholic League plans to demonstrate outside the Empire State Building on August 26, which would have been the 100th birthday of Mother Teresa, who cared for the poor and homeless of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India. She died in 1997.

The Catholic League says over 40,000 people have signed a petition in favor of the lights. "I think that too many Catholics have fallen asleep at the wheel," Donohue told CNN. "It's time for people, the rank and file to say enough is enough. I hope it's going to be nonviolent, I wouldn't encourage violence but I know there's a lot of anger."

The brewing controversy has found an ally in New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn, a Catholic. Quinn said that lighting the Empire State Building in Mother Teresa's honor would "be a very uplifting and unifying and inspiring message to have at a time when I think the city could use it."

"I think the organization that owns the Empire State Building seeing this as a religious request is really missing much of the significance of the life's work of Mother Teresa, across the world and in New York City," Quinn said.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York said that a spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

The lighting tradition dates back to 1932, when the Empire State Building shined a 50-mile searchlight beacon to announce that Franklin D. Roosevelt had been elected president. Colored lighting wasn't introduced til 1976, when the tower was lit in red, white and blue for the American Bicentennial.

The vast majority of the occasions and organizations honored in lights by the Empire State Building are secular causes - June honorees include the World Series, Caribbean Week, and the Belmont Stakes, among others - but the building has been known to make exceptions, honoring Pope John Paul II and former New York Archbishop John Joseph O'Connor in years past.

In May, the skyscraper was lit blue and white to call attention to the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York's Salute to Israel Parade.

The Empire State Building has been recognized as an official landmark by the National Parks Services and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission since the 1980s.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Catholic Church • Culture wars

soundoff (371 Responses)
  1. Stop Pedophiles

    Ummmmmm... Am I missing something??? Donohue & the Catholic League need to be Protesting Against Pedophile Priests!!!

    June 10, 2010 at 6:54 pm |
  2. Vera

    Mr. Donohue is simply a bully and windbag portraying himself as a good Catholic. The building is privately owned and the owners should stand firm against all this posturing and threats. I was raised a Catholic and believe Mr. Donohue should respect the owner's wishes. He is probably dismayed that the inquisition ended a long time ago. His tactics should ring hollow in a democracy. Perhaps the church should sell some icon and give the money to the poor. Maybe the the lights should be dimmed at the Vatican, while saving money they can say it was in memory of Mother Teresa.
    Why doesn't the church celebrate Mother Teresa's birthday by donating $$$$ in her honor on her birthday to some worthy childrens' charity and certainly there is ample need of money for therapy for children who have been victims of pedophile priests. Mr. Donohue you always seem to take the low road.

    June 10, 2010 at 6:48 pm |
  3. dougsheets

    "who do these people think they are?" I think the real question is "who do YOU think YOU are?" You cannot force a private citizen to turn on and off their lights for someone you respect. I personally think Mother Teresa was a nice woman, and if i were the owner, I would certainly have put on a light show in her honor. However I also suggest you read Christopher Hitchen's book "The Missionary Position" as it supports a negative viewpoint of Mother Teresa.

    My point is that you don't have the right to tell people what to do, who to honor, who to respect. You have the right to get upset and frustrated, but to hold a public announcement accusing a private business man of having anti-catholic sentiments without any other evidence than he didn't do what you asked is B.S.

    June 10, 2010 at 6:47 pm |
  4. dolly

    I don't understand why the empire state building won't light up there lights for Mother Teresa's Birthday but i do remember them lighting it for Mariah Carey when her last album came out.

    June 10, 2010 at 6:47 pm |
  5. Gary

    I can see why certain catholics might want to light-up the top of the Empire State building – it is rather phallic.

    June 10, 2010 at 6:46 pm |
  6. Alex

    How about this compromise?

    ESB will light up the building if the Catholic Church will ensure that every priest guilty of child molestation jumps from the building while the festive lights are on?


    June 10, 2010 at 6:41 pm |
    • Bluto


      June 10, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
  7. Kate

    Bill Donahue is way off the mark. First of all, I doubt Mother Theresa would approve of the lighting and of the Catholic League's temper tantrum. Second, as a Catholic I was always taught to turn the other cheek. Mother Theresa can still be honored. There's nothing anti-Catholic about this decision. And, in fact, Bill Donahue is making the situation worse for Catholics, because he makes the rest of us look like wingnuts.

    If you don't get your way, work around it, find another way to accomplish your mission. Then, grow up and try to do something good for someone else.

    June 10, 2010 at 6:39 pm |
  8. jpwilson19

    I think we all need to "light one up" for Mother Teresa. That would be more appropriate "in light" of this.

    June 10, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
  9. TheZNB

    "mind-boggling" and "indefensible and obscene," speculating that anti-Catholic bigotry was at play.'

    Have you noticed that if any group/race/religion does not get its way in this country that it automatically screams racism or prejudice first thing? I see this more and more in the news as of late. It is so predictable, yet so tiring at the same time. People in this country need to grow a pair and stop playing the prejudice card EVERY time. It is getting really, really old!

    June 10, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
  10. jpwilson19

    The world is going to hell. This is proof of it.

    June 10, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
  11. Kevin

    That Bill Donohue guy sure reminds me of a terror-spouting Imam.

    June 10, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  12. Fusty

    why not switch all the lights off and in the money they save they could buy food for the poor in kolkota, or alternatively they could light it up burning donohue at the stake on top of it.

    June 10, 2010 at 6:12 pm |
  13. Kevin

    Why would New York celebrate an Albanian nun? Mother Theresa, as she is so known, is not a brand name for goodness. Why don't you read up on her and not assume she's as saintly as the catholics claim?

    June 10, 2010 at 6:11 pm |
  14. Tina

    Wow, what a pair of windbags.

    June 10, 2010 at 6:10 pm |
  15. Freddy

    Donohue should be ashamed – creating a phony issue to divert attention from the pedophilia in the Catholic Church. He is an embarrassment to the memory of Mother Theresa and anyone else who dedicated their lives to helping people. How about getting the 40,000 demonstrators to feed the hungry or clothe the naked?.

    June 10, 2010 at 6:02 pm |
  16. Danko Ramone

    I would think, if it were possible to ask her, that Mother Teresa would prefer energy not be wasted on her, and instead effort and money (lighting it IS costly) be made on behalf of the poor and suffering.

    June 10, 2010 at 6:02 pm |
  17. Gino

    This is non-news. They can do what they want, and they've decided to follow their own policy.

    June 10, 2010 at 5:57 pm |
  18. Mosman

    There seems to be a basic need for many people to defile, besmirch, deflower, or otherwise foul anything or anyone who is good. Maybe such people as Mother Theresa are an embarassment to these folks. Or maybe these people are simply the property of some darker power. (Call it an IMAGINARY enemy if you wish. Remember that even imagination requires mental effort. The mentally lazy could never postulate Satan.)

    June 10, 2010 at 5:56 pm |
  19. Connie

    Some of the above comments mentioned New York as a "Jewish town." Well, it also includes people of other faiths and denominations as well. I happen to be a New York Protestant, and I appreciate that the Empire State Building's management doesn't want to jump on the Catholic bandwagon. How about respect for diversity?

    June 10, 2010 at 5:56 pm |
  20. Glenn Baker

    Stop with all of this hoopla. This whole escapade would have insulting to her. And, it's insulting to her memory. Because your really making the whole story about YOU and not about her. Want to give her honor? Shut up and start giving to the less fortunate, hold them in your arms, care for them. Wipe the sweat off their dirty brows and kiss their dirty faces. Bind their wounds and visit them in prison-no matter the crime. And do it all without making a big stink about it. Instead of giving to organizations that use so much of the money to cover salaries for the executives and mailings begging for money, give of yourself, your time, your energy. And if you can find the love inside just waiting to be poured out upon those in need, give your love. That's what she did. That's what she was. She could care less about celebrating her 100 years which she did not see since she is now resting. And hers is a good rest, well deserved. Celebrate her by losing your life like she did.

    June 10, 2010 at 5:56 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.