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. Dawn

    This just in: Whooptie doo!

    She's dead and will not care. If the Catholics want to remember her, let them. That's their right.
    It's also the right of the building owner to not give a crap if he so chooses.

    June 10, 2010 at 2:29 pm |
  2. CMH

    I'm glad they are not lighting up the building in honor of Mother Teresa. They've already made the statement, right at the beginning of the article, that they don't light it up for religious reasons other than the holidays listed.

    The Mother Teresa admirers can surely find lots and lots of other ways of showing their admiration. Maybe they should concentrate on figuring those out instead of trash talking someone for not wanting to light up a building.

    June 10, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
  3. Mosman

    Consistency is good:
    If Mother Theresa sometimes doubted the presence of God, as do all true soul searchers, she's an atheist.
    If she believed everything without thought, she'd be an ignorant simpleton.
    Secular society is surely tangled up in its own confusion.

    June 10, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
  4. Mrome03

    I find it reprehensible and misleading that the author failed to mention that the ESB has, in the past, honored The Communist regime of China, a Yankees World Series Wins, St. Patrick's Day, and many other seemingly arbitrary and frivolous achievements. Certainly the life and work of Mother Teresa would merit, at the very least, merit a cermonial lighting considering their past imprudence.

    June 10, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
    • CMH

      I think the point here is that many people do NOT believe the life and work of Mother Teresa deserves merit.

      June 10, 2010 at 2:28 pm |
    • Bob

      Look at your audience... Do you really think they care about anything that doesn't affect them personally?

      June 10, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
  5. Akira

    I don't get it. All this fuss and claims of anti-Catholic bias over some stupid lights. Is this a nation of thin-skinned people who get get offended and angry at the slightest slight? If Mother Teresa were still alive, somehow I doubt she would make an issue over something so trivial.

    June 10, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  6. Michael

    I am a Catholic and I support the private company's decision to not light up their tower. I am a big supporter of Mother Theresa as well. I believe those Catholics who are shocked at this decision need to put thier energies into more useful tasks. If we as Catholics want something special done then let it be up to the local Churches to do just that.

    June 10, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
    • Fan of Michael

      Michael, We were all wondering what your thoughts would be on this. How enlightening...

      June 10, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
    • DDRM

      It's the principle. As a Catholic, I have friends that are atheists as well and they equally think it's short-sighted for the Empire State Building. This is straight-up bias. This woman did many wonderful things in her life. She's a Nobel peace prize laureate and deserves their respect. They can refuse – but we Catholics need to understand that this country can easily turn in a country where people of faith are treated like crap!

      June 13, 2010 at 10:25 am |
  7. Penny

    I agree she was a remarkable woman, but I'm not sure I agree with lighting the building for her birthday. If they do that shouldn't it be lit for George Washington's birthday? Abe Lincoln's birthday? Albert Einstein's birthday?? There are a lot
    of remarkable people that it could be lit for. I would think it could be lit every day of the year. I think it should be reserved
    for special occasions.....I agree with some other posts..Mother Teresa was a simple woman and I think she would appreciate having people pray for peace more than having a bunch of lights turned on for her.

    June 10, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
  8. Mosman

    Mother Theresa was a light in the midst of a great darkness. Wouldn't it be appropriate to light up a building in the midst of a great sewer?

    June 10, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
  9. Tommy

    Not lighting this building has nothing to do with respect or remembering this person, what a crock of crap...seems folks want to make a debate of everything these days...pure BS and this story is pure BS too

    June 10, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
  10. Jim "Bob"

    The Empire State Building should be lighted for the one and only Messiah Brack "Insane" Obama

    June 10, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
  11. Illuminati

    Heck, she didn't even believe in God.

    "[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear — the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak ..." – Mother Teresa

    June 10, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
    • Mosman

      Mystics call this "The Dark Night of the Soul" otherwise known as spiritual "desolation". Awareness of God's presence is known as "consolation". This waxing and waning is normal to great spiritual people.

      June 10, 2010 at 2:33 pm |
  12. Will

    I'm Catholic, although not part of the Roman Catholic dogma. There are some of us who know the truth about Teresa and the evil she did - such as refusing to give donated medical care to children in her "care" to allow them to suffer and enter heaven sooner. She was evil, and deserves zero honor whatsoever.

    June 10, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
  13. Sniffit

    "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."

    Threats? LOL. Lame. Religious nutjobs and their hypocrisy. It's like it comes out of their pores. I'm sure Mother Theresa will be looking down upon their victim-mentality-driven conspiracy theories and protests with such glowing pride in what wonderful Christians they are who claim to admire and follow in her humble footsteps.

    June 10, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  14. Richard

    I am a proud Catholic. But with all do respect, I do agree with the decision of the Empire State Building. It does not want to seem affiliated, or seem like it's giving special privileges to any religious group or organization. But let all Catholics remember. Mother Teresa was a simple woman. Just a masses all over the world for her commemoration is special enough. She didn't care about fancy lights.

    June 10, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  15. Cissy

    They are saving that honor for something REALLY special. Like, Michael Jackson's birthday!

    June 10, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
  16. Marianne

    I am a Catholic and I think the best way to honor Mother Teresa would be for the Empire State Building to be dark in her honor, and then give half the cost of what it would cost to light the building for one night to the Sisters of Charity. I don't think Mother Teresa would like such foolish wasted spending for her honor. The guy from the Catholic league doesn't represents all Catholics. What the Empire State building does is there business, but it would be good for them to save some money by not lighting the building in Mother's honor and giving half te money they save to help the poorest of the poor in NYC. I'm just saying.

    June 10, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
    • Patti

      OR give the money to the thousands of Catholic survivors that have been abused by priests.

      June 10, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
  17. Spendlove

    Welcome to reality.. if the owners of the Empire State Building don't want to light up for Mother Teresa that's their right and business and not anybody else. "Wipe the tears and press the spacebar."

    June 10, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
  18. Mosman

    Who cares what New York City thinks? The Church has survived everything from Diocletian to the Protestant Update, to Nazism, to Stalinist Russia. Neither being ignored by the bulidings owners, or turning on all the lights has any value.

    June 10, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
  19. Geo

    All religions are evil.

    June 10, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  20. Norah

    Really? .... Really? Stop it. Do something worthwhile.

    June 10, 2010 at 1:53 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.