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. keep it 2 yourself

    There is NO difference between Radical Islam and the Christian Taliban in the united states. This just proves it. Same threats from supposed people close to this god just like the south park threats. SAME THING.
    The Christian Mullahs are just as dangerous as the Taliban mullahs, issuing edicts to PROTEST and maybe a lil violence added in.. The Empire State Building crusades are being drawn up now. FOR REAL, you Christian Taliban ALREADY wiped out all the Incas and almost all the Aztecs in South America forcing your religion on them. its time to STOP your violence hating their way of life.

    June 11, 2010 at 1:04 am |

    A day of service to honor Mother Teresa's memory IS a good idea. That, however, does not excuse the owners of the Empire State Building. They are free, of course, to do what they wish with their building. Those of us who object are free not to visit that building and to encourage elected officials to deny the owners any sort of benefits at the public's expense.

    As to the individual who accepted at face value the slanders of the God-Hater Hitchens, you do have an agenda. If you are willing to accept the calumny of an individual who was never fit to walk in Mother Teresa's shadow who despises Christianity and who is always ready to try to paint believers in the worst possible light, then you do have an agenda–and it is probably the same as God-Hater Hitchens.

    June 10, 2010 at 9:48 pm |
    • NakkiNyan

      You mean the same you you paint non-believers in the same light?

      June 11, 2010 at 4:08 pm |
  3. Surthurfurd

    article quote " 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.' "
    Sounds like he is hinting that violence is justified? Where has he been on the issue of abuse of minors by priests? This does sound like a version of a fatwa.

    June 10, 2010 at 8:22 pm |
  4. AisleOfLooseC

    I am also going to protest silent protests, loudly.

    June 10, 2010 at 8:19 pm |
  5. AisleOfLooseC

    I am going to protest helping the poor!

    June 10, 2010 at 8:12 pm |
  6. bobcarp

    The more I hear Bill Donohue speak, the happier I am that I'm not a catholic. He's such a puss! Anytime someone disagrees with him he see's it as hating catholics, or call's anyone who won't kiss pope benadick's ass a bigot. So people have different opinions than you Bill, get over it!

    June 10, 2010 at 8:12 pm |
  7. Felicia

    ReulctantAltarBoy, do you know how hysterical it is that there's a "report abuse" button right below your post?

    June 10, 2010 at 8:07 pm |
  8. Cadenas

    Couldn't we just see Mother Theresa as a human being who was good and did good to other human beings? Does charity have to be labeled?

    June 10, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
  9. BAM

    The Christian Taliban has spoken.... Why does this guys comments match EXACTLY the Radical Islamic group mad at South Park?
    Oh yeah because the Christian Taliban are just as Violent or more as any Radical Islamic.
    Welcome to the Christian Talibans two faceness.

    June 10, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
  10. ReluctantAltarBoy

    Anti-Catholic sentiment? Perhaps if the dictator of your theocracy would step up and do something to stop your priests from raping children the folks at the Empire State Building would be more inclined to honor one of the few truly decent persons to march upon the world stage in your name of late, or ever for that matter.

    June 10, 2010 at 7:57 pm |
    • DJ Skronk

      "That woman lived a life of austerity, poverty, and quiet dignity... how DARE you not light up an enormous building in her honor! ZOMGYOUHATECATHOLICS! Gotta love Bill Donohue. He's always good for a laugh.

      June 10, 2010 at 8:13 pm |
  11. Joseph Ricardo

    Mother Theresa you did do good in your life... However you died as a non-Muslim – May Allah forgive you your sins.

    June 10, 2010 at 7:52 pm |
  12. John

    Mother Teresa was no Saint.

    June 10, 2010 at 7:51 pm |
  13. Bluto

    Really, who gives a flying fig? What a moronic argument.

    June 10, 2010 at 7:36 pm |
  14. Celt

    Born and Raised Catholic all i have to say is, instead of all the energy that's being wasted picketing and complaining over lighting up a building to mark the memory of one dead person,why not spend your time doing something good for the poor living in NY and make a difference in many lives.

    June 10, 2010 at 7:30 pm |
  15. Guy Fawkes

    All this ties in with the vicious anti-Catholicism so prevalent today. The Empire State Building will also remain dark on Aug. 24, despite that beautiful date marking the 438th anniversary of the glorious Massacre of St. Bartholomew, which did so much to cleanse France of Huguenot blasphemers.

    June 10, 2010 at 7:28 pm |
  16. J-Man Brody

    I'm not sure I trust this Mother Teresa character or some huge organized religion. You don't need a church to have religion, you don't need an Empire State Building to for to believe in. Just be humble and help your neighbors.

    June 10, 2010 at 7:26 pm |
  17. Brains

    They won't light it up for Mother Teressa but they light it in communist colors to honor the Chinese government? Wow! Maybe it has something to do with Mother Teressa having rejected her faith? Or maybe they just really like Communist governments? Probably both. 🙂

    June 10, 2010 at 7:12 pm |
  18. valwayne

    Mother Teresa was Nobel Peace prize winner! You hardly have to make this into a religious issue, although it is amazing how much hate and prejudice there is out there against Catholics. And how the haters can spew their venom against a woman that devoted her life to the poor is beyond all understanding. The haters of the world never seem to stop!

    June 10, 2010 at 7:10 pm |
  19. Maddy

    IMHO I don't think Mo T would have given two hoots about the Empire State Building and their lights.
    She was way too busy shining a different kind of light to bother about such trivia.

    June 10, 2010 at 7:10 pm |
  20. Erik

    How in the he!! can CNN publish this story without even mentioning that the building was lit for the 60th aniversery of the founding of the Peoples Republic of China?! They even have a photo of it at the top!!! Epic fail. Never mind that Mother Theresa is a hero and inspiration to millions of people both secular and religious while the PRC killed millions of people both secular and religious (est. 65 mil. according to The Black Book of Communism). What a disgusting display of moral relativism.

    June 10, 2010 at 7:07 pm |
    • Bazelope

      I am sure that the Chinese have some sort of a deal with the owners of this building. The catholics and Christians simply have there faith and that's not good enough for the Hebs that own the Empire State Building. Jews are arrogant. What else is new???

      June 10, 2010 at 7:28 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.