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. Henry Miller


    "indefensible and obscene"

    "His decision to double down at this juncture...is something he will regret for the rest of his life."

    Oh, come on... Such hyperbole reflects only that its source takes religion way too seriously. I haven't much of a clue who "Mother Teresa" is/was–I'm sure she is/was a fine lady and all that–but why should the people who own the Empire State Building waste all those watts just because it's her birthday?

    June 10, 2010 at 1:07 pm |
  2. Mosman

    David: as a child I was alone with many priests in cars, rectories, confessionals, etc. and not once ever harmed. Also, I've been a Catholic in the pew for 56 years and never saw a beer bottle thrown or the need to hide a child.
    You sound like the many self-proclaimed intellectuals who show up on these sites. You know: the ones who will make the world better when we've gotten rid of religion.

    June 10, 2010 at 1:07 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Because the world is so much better with fatwahs, Bin Laden, and Pope Hitler Youth telling the sheeple what to do?

      June 10, 2010 at 3:12 pm |
    • AGuest9

      There were those of us who knew intuitively which priests to not get caught alone by. Decades later, we see our friends' pain as they fight for the dignity to stand up for the wrongs done to them. Did you spent 54 years looking the other way, or you were one of the fortunate ones who was completely spared from either being a victim, or living in fear of victimization?

      June 10, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
  3. Nancy M. B.

    Get over it.

    June 10, 2010 at 1:06 pm |
  4. charles zabielski

    Your lead in link says "NY landmark "stiffs" Teresa."

    You can't bring your bias/hate to call her properly, "Mother Teresa"?

    June 10, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
  5. Kate

    Mother Teresa would be so proud of all the protesters spending their time in this way on her 100th birthday.... this is one of the more ridiculous things i have heard

    June 10, 2010 at 1:02 pm |
  6. rocksyfan

    When Bill Donohoe owns the Empire State building, he can light all the lights whenever he wants. Simply amazes me that because it's related to religion and especially the Catholic church, everyone is just supposed to roll over and let them do what they want. Here to tell you, Bill, you and the church don't own the world and you need to get over yourself. What's obscene is the hissy toddler fit you and your group are throwing because somebody told you "no". Grow up! Good for you Empire, stick to your guns!!! Color me sick of the moral minority and religious wrong telling the rest of us what is right and wrong.

    June 10, 2010 at 1:02 pm |
    • Sarah

      I have a message from Bill Donohue: he says you are no longer allowed to think for yourself...especially when you go on making valid arguments against him. You must now accept daily emails from Bill telling you what you are to do, think, and complain about that day.

      June 10, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
    • Randy

      So...at the last gasp, the truth comes out, eh? The uproar over this is silly, but you are just as clearly spiteful.

      June 10, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
  7. Lee

    Mother Teresa created a lot of the poor she cared for by following the Catholic Church's stance on birth control. Poor women who had no control over their reproductive rights got no help from this woman. The building is private property and Catholics need to worry about cleaning out their own house!

    June 10, 2010 at 1:01 pm |
    • Mosman

      Maybe you can explain to me how Mother Theresa created an AIDS epidemic here in the US, or the soaring child abuse, or the abuse of women? In this culture we blame our sicknesses on a Church who teaches how to avoid such problems.
      Then we pronounce ourselves an "enlightened" society.

      June 10, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Agreed, Lee. There would be less suffering in the world if there were fewer mouths to feed.

      June 10, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
  8. Mosman

    The whole world knows who Mother Theresa of Calcutta is. But the owners of the Empire State Building? Who are they?
    Besides, Mother Theresa would not have wanted such a display. Perhaps another reason the building won't be lit up: once when she came to the US, and was being shown along Wall Street, she commented "well, I see that Jesus is needed here too."

    June 10, 2010 at 1:01 pm |
  9. Mojonaamdi

    Mother Theresa never wanted the spotlight and if she had a say in this matter, I am absolutely sure that she would prefer for all efforts to honor her be channeled to helping the poor instead.

    June 10, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
  10. toomuchgovernment

    Outside its practice of lightings for Christmas, Easter, Hanukkah and Eid al-Fitr (the end of Ramadan)"'


    We leave the lights on for Ramadan? That is a muslim holiday? WHENTHEHELL are we celebrating people who took down the twin towers?

    The USA is really a sick nation these days, in more ways than one....

    I thought the USA was a Christian Nation? I would betcha the Muslims aren't lighting up their sky for Christmas, and Easter, muchless Hannukkah!
    This is yet another Obamination and this crap MUST BE STOPPED!

    June 10, 2010 at 12:59 pm |
    • Steve

      LOL, umm, no we arent a Christian nation, hence the freedom of religion you tool.

      Grow up and get an education, I am sure that would help you enormously.

      June 10, 2010 at 1:01 pm |
    • toomuchgovernment

      Hey Steve and ARNAB–We were founded as a Christian Nation–go do your homework.
      Regardless of what we are now, I would betcha lunch that the Mus aren't celebrating anything but another victory of terrorism in their country, muchless our Easter or Christmas. Get a life and learn some history!

      June 10, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
    • Henry Miller

      Uh, not all Muslims were in on taking the towers down. The vast majority were as appalled and outraged as anyone else.

      In 1572 some unknown number–certainly in the thousands-of French Catholics massacred twenty to thirty thousand French Protestants. Are you going to blame every Catholic in the world for those murders?

      June 10, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
    • Steve

      The United States was founded as a nation without an established religion. Read the Establishment Clause. Then read the following quotation from George Washington, one of the founders of our country, the head of the Continental Army, and our first President: "All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens."

      June 10, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
    • nymetschick

      I love you, Steve. Whoever you are. 🙂

      June 10, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
    • Robert in Canada

      Actually, when I lived in Egypt everyone went out of their way to wish me Merry Christmas even though the Coptic Christians there celebrate Christmas in early January and Muslims (90% of the population) don't celebrate Christmas at all. Muslims are the fastest growing religion in Canada and might be in the US too. Lighten up and stop being such a bigot. A billion Muslims did not bring down the towers, it was a handful of hate-filled men.

      June 10, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
    • Bobbie

      Timothy McVeigh was a Christian and an American. So I guess we shouldn't be celebrating Christmas either huh? Cause we all know that just because someone's a certain religion always means that everyone of that religion is just like them. Those evil Jesus loving traitors!

      June 10, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
    • Alverant

      toomuchgovernment do your own homework. If we were a christian nation we wouldn't have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of press, non-establishment of religion, no religious test for office, democracy, and so on and so forth. We'd be more like Iran with a slightly different set of rules.

      If you think this nation was founded on christian values, then why not name some?

      June 14, 2010 at 8:45 am |
  11. Russ

    Mother T was a fraud and a perpetuator of suffering. What a horrible woman.

    June 10, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
  12. Kana

    Maybe Mayor Bloomberg can use an act of emminent domain than NYC can take over the building and then demand the taxpayers of New York State should pay to support and maintain the building.

    June 10, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
  13. nkm

    Yes, the building is privately owned, yes they have the right to decide who gets honored, and yes there may be some valid questions regarding Mother Teresa, but the owners could also have turned down Communist China's request as well, but did not. China holds one of the world's worst records for human rights. Yet they get honored. Go figure.

    June 10, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
    • Debby

      I agree 100%

      Whether or not you agree with the actions of Mother Theresa, how do you justify celebrating the atrocities committed by communist China? Serious lack of judgment.

      June 10, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  14. Michael Schulze

    Mother Teresa was an awful person. Her twisted pain cult had nothing to do with helping people, and rather "saving" thier souls. Her "hospitals" were nothing but dirty buildings with blankets on the ground were people could repent before dying a slow agonizing death, all the while being refused treatment that could actually save their lives.

    June 10, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
    • ajl

      I agree w/ arnab– please spend an afternoon or evening working with them before you make a blanket statement like that. I had the gift of working with the MOC around different parts of Mexico City. They are beautiful priests, nuns and paypeople helping the world's poor, with a mission to heal both the physical and spiritual wounds of those they serve. I've never felt as much peace as I did the 10 days I lived in poverty with the nuns, giving my time– and able hands– as a gift to God~

      June 10, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
  15. Laura


    June 10, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
  16. Rick Geary

    If they can light it for a Jewish holiday, they should light it for Mother Teresa. I am appalled at some of the comments above.

    June 10, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
    • Mari Cole

      "If they can light it for a Jewish holiday, they should light it for Mother Teresa."

      They light for Christian and Muslim holidays too, Rick. And to imply celebrating a Jewish holiday is less important than celebrating the 100th birthday of someone who is deceased is just illogical and ignorant. You look like a huge bigot. Nice work.

      June 10, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
    • Steve

      They light it for Christmas, which is the more correct analogy.

      June 10, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
    • NakkiNyan

      They light up for a Jewish holiday and a Christian holiday, your argument is not equivalent. A holiday is not a person, now name a Jew they light up their building for.

      June 11, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
  17. Patricia O

    Mothr Teresa's order The Missionaries Of Charity work with AIDs patients and the poor in the Bronx and in every major city in the U S. She loved New York especially even though she started her work in Calcutta India..

    June 10, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
  18. Steve

    Mother T was a fraud who let others suffer because it was "good for them," but sought the best medical care for her own illnesses. Real inspirational. Forget about trying to bully someone into adorning their private property for her, and turn on some lights in India. Or the vatican.

    June 10, 2010 at 12:53 pm |
  19. Ben

    Separation of Church and state. Protest BP instead.

    June 10, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
    • duh

      seriously? church and state? because 'state' is in the name of the building?? LMAO – you are special.

      June 10, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
  20. hypatia

    Score one for the Empire State Bldg.

    June 10, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
About this blog

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.