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. remy

    You don't really know her for you to judge her.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
  2. krishna

    she does not need lights from some stupid building. she gave light to the world. even if one person can do what she did her entire life for one day, that would be enough celebration for her birthday.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
  3. prankster

    Hey Folks-
    It's 2010! There's no "up there" or "down there"! We're not "born sinners". We're just people. Snakes don't talk to people. Bye.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:04 pm |
  4. Paul

    This should be only viewed as a celebration of Mother Teresa’s life work in helping make the world a better place, and not a “I support the Catholic Church”. I think it is sad that they will not light up the Empire State Building, but I do respect their choice not to do so. I am Catholic.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:04 pm |
  5. Chris

    Mother Teresa is a fanatic and a fraud. She doesn't work to get people out of poverty; she works to keep them in it. Her set ups in Calcutta are disgusting and inhuman, it's amazing how many people who know absolutely nothing about her "work" come on here to defend her.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
    • Bazelope

      Chris, say hello to the devil for me five seconds after you expire. You can call MOST people "frauds" in this life but a woman who spent every day of her life trying to help the down trodden? What synagogue are you a member of?? OY-VEY!!!

      June 10, 2010 at 7:32 pm |
  6. Dee

    REALLY? THIS is what Donohue chooses to address? Not pedophile priests? If he wants to honor her, he should spend the day in a soup kitchen or a free clinic.

    June 10, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
  7. Papagino

    As a Catholic, I will make Aug 26th a day of prayer and service. Service is an integral part of the Church and Mother Theresa exemplfied it. Unfortunately, not every Catholic has achieved that understanding of Christ's teachings. As James so succinctly put it "Faith without works is Dead".

    June 10, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
  8. WVlady62

    The Empire State Building is doing the right thing.

    June 10, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
  9. George Sales

    This is a secular nation, Mr. Donohue. Quite trying to shove your Catholic views down our throats! Instead of trying to force a private company to light a building, how about getting the Vatican to take responsibility for abusive priests!

    June 10, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
  10. Sixoh

    It's always something.

    June 10, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
  11. Ginger Lemon

    I'm sure that nothing would please Mother Thersa more than spending thousands of dollars to light up a building in her honor. I am sure that if she were alive, that is exactly what she would want. Donohue is right, Catholics have fallen asleep at the wheel– putting pride and public displays ahead of humility and service.

    June 10, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
  12. repubocrat

    My Goodness! I'm thinking Mother Teresa would prefer that anyone who has their 'panties in a bunch' over this to go out and actually DO something charitable for somebody else. Mother Teresa wasn't about lighting up a building up in her honor. Let's instead honor the saintly woman with something more appropriate of the legacy of who she was, and all that she dedicated her life to.....for "there is a Calcutta in every neighborhood".

    June 10, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
  13. Jane Huang

    I met Mother Theresa when I worked in Calcutta in the early 1980s. I'm very certain that the last thing she would want would be for the Empire State building to be lit up in her honor. It would be a much greater honor to her if people were asked to acknowledge the poor and need – perhaps actually saying 'hello' to them as they walked past on the streets, or perhaps giving a small donation or a helping hand to a local shelter or food pantry. These kind of things would be much more likely to make her happy than lightling a building in her memory.

    June 10, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
  14. john

    I agree with the comments by 'marat', Mother Theresa was not a saint. I would urge anyone to take a few moments to look into the darker side of this woman. "Hells Angel, Mother Theresa" on youtube is a disturbing but revealing video. It shows the the real facts- she was in the buisness of killing the poor. It would not suprise me if she was related to Adolf Hitler. Another stain on the Catholic church and all religion. Hopefully someday humanity will wake up and realize that their is no god, no devil, no heaven or hell. Wealthy, powerful men created the concept of monotheism, Pharoah Ahknaten and Constantine 1st. Prior to that all ancient civiliazations were Pagan, which is the worship of the Sun, Moon, Planets, etc. Wealthy powerful men have used 'religion' as a means of controlling populations, monothesim instills fear in people, fear of burning in 'Hell '. Fear is a very powerful tool used to control populations, and monsters like Mother Theresa only help to spread the fear, she is responsible for the suffering and death of millions. If there was a 'Hell ' she would be there.

    June 10, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
    • jlh

      You have to be kidding! I met Mother Theresa and I saw her serving the poor. I doubt that she would care whether people called her a saint or not – but one thing that I can advocate for first-hand is that she lived a very simple life, and that her life was dedicated to helping and serving the poor. She was surrounded by other women with the same mission. Your misinformation is just that..... my account of Mother Theresa is based on spending 2.5 years of my life living in Calcutta and seeing what she did.

      June 10, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
    • Critical Thinker

      ""Hells Angel, Mother Theresa" on youtube is a disturbing but revealing video. It shows the the real facts- she was in the buisness of killing the poor. It would not suprise me if she was related to Adolf Hitler."

      And, course this video is completely factual and undistorted... (Where is the eye-rolling emoticon when I need it?)

      June 10, 2010 at 4:30 pm |
  15. boy floyd

    this is clearly anti-semitism

    June 10, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
  16. Twisted Society

    Why would we want to honor someone who dedicated her life to others? I sure hope they'll light it up on the one year anniversary of Michael Jackson's death!

    June 10, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
  17. Sam

    Another manufactured controversy over nothing. And I say that as a Catholic. The best way we can think of to honor the memory of this woman is by lighting up a building? Really? How about actually doing some good works or donating to a good cause. Unfortunately, Bill D. of the Catholic League is like Joe McCarthy, seeing anti-Catholic sentiment in every shadow and around every corner. He makes a mockery of the very religion he claims to champion. I bet the Archdiocese has no spokesperson ready to make a comment. They know when to avoid getting dragged into a non-issue.

    June 10, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
    • I say that as a Catholic

      So in other words, you're only a Catholic when it is convienient for you or if you find yourself in a jam... What character...

      June 10, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
    • KellyinCA

      It's kerfuffles like this that give the other 99.99999% of us Catholics a bad name. Bill Donahue and the Catholic League (which does _not_ speak for all Catholics, by the way) would honor Mother Teresa's memory and our faith far better by serving the poor of New York.

      For the haters: Mother Teresa was a nun; she had taken vows to defend the Church's official teachings as a condition of her vocation, and she would _never_ have been able to begin or continue her work if her first response to the rampant poverty and indignities of Kolkata would be to start handing out condoms by the handful. Her mission was not in questioning how these people came to their lot in life, but in providing comfort and dignity to them.

      Mother Teresa had no choice as a nun but to comply with the encyclical.

      June 10, 2010 at 7:48 pm |
  18. James

    No one forces people to put up Christmas lights on their homes...why should a privately owned building be obligated to do the same?

    June 10, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
  19. Sarcasmo

    Everyone here needs to lighten up.

    June 10, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
  20. MikeMaz

    Bill Donoho is a huge crybaby and always has been. I mean spirited guy with a huge chip on his shoulder who remained eeerily quiet during the child molestation charges. He should spend more time working on repairing the churches image and not about lights

    June 10, 2010 at 2:37 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.