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. boydanb203

    P.S Sorry if this postting comes up twice, It keep saying that was not posted.

    MR Bill Donohue stop instigating violence on Mother Teresa's birthday!!! the Empire State Building(a private building) said No, so get over, move on and find another building to be lit in her honor or better instead getting 40.000 Catholics to camp on her birthday in front of the ESB , get those same Catholic to help the poor and the sick that day. I think Mother Teresa ( a very simple,humble person, would not wanted a building to be lit on her name, as I far as I read about her , she was very shy and modest person) so get your band of nuts,fanatic Catholics to help others on that date instead of raising against a private building. MSS Quinn, go back to your work as a city council and stop wasting the taxes payers money on a private matter, that has nothing to do with the city and you should be ashamed to be associate with a bigot like MR Donohue.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
  2. Jay

    I 100 percent agree that this is a matter of a private organization. It is up to the business whether or not they light this building up and is not a government concern. If the people want to protest, let them protest and hurt this company financially. Obama needs to stay out of private matters or we will be getting closer and closer to communism (as if Obama doesn't want that anyway)

    June 10, 2010 at 3:53 pm |
  3. Jack

    It's funny how CNN left out the fact that they lit it for Communist China. God knows the Communist New Network does not want to put down communism. For that is their ultimate goal!

    June 10, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
    • Daniel

      Whoa, tin hat much?

      June 10, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
  4. prankster

    Read the biography by Christopher Hutchins-it might help you to wake up a bit.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
  5. Jill-Renay

    So, does the Catholic Church feel slighted when the Empire State Building refuses to light up for the birthdays of saints? How about the pope? And should other humanitarians get angry and start protests because their birthdays are not recognized? Come on, people! Really! What the heck would Mother Teresa think of this? It's bizarre! Go spend your time helping a soup kitchen or some other charitable organization instead of staging this meaningless protest!

    June 10, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
  6. Christopher

    Mr. Donahue, why should Roman Catholics get special rights?

    June 10, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
  7. Christopher

    I would take anything bill Donohue says with a grain of salt. He is a silly man who blows things way out of proprtion and throws fits when he doesn't get his way. He is an embarrassment to Roman Catholics.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
  8. Paddy

    So Israel, a country that has murdered Amerians , the U.S.S. Liberty, and just recently attacked and murdered civilians aboard a fotlilla bring aid to Gaza, including an American citizen , can be honored but not an international humanitarian. HMMMM.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
    • Jill-Renay

      ??? I missed the part where the Empire State Building is lit up for Israel. Should I get glasses? And Israel has murdered Americans? Really? Damn! They are pretty darned organized over there, aren't they, for the whole country to be involved with that! Unbelievable. How the heck did poor Israel get dragged into this, anyway? I thought this was about the Catholics and the Empire State Building. Stick to the topic!

      June 10, 2010 at 3:47 pm |
  9. tony

    why lite it up at all who cares i dont wouldent even look at it anyway .

    June 10, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
  10. Daniel

    Why not light up the Empire State Building for all of the scientists, engineers, and doctors whose inventions, ideas and knowledge have helped billions more people than Mother Teresa ever did? Many of them never worked for the money or the fame, they just wanted to help people also. Where is their representation?

    June 10, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
    • Mosman

      As an engineer, I think that scientific discovery is a neutral thing. The question is what human nature does with it.
      If we split the atom, we can create useful energy or a nuclear bomb.

      June 10, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
  11. das0522



    June 10, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
  12. san

    Catholics make up less than 3% of India's population. Just wanted to clear that up for whomever posted that the number of Catholics in India is equivalent to the population the USA.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
  13. boydanb203

    I think they should light in her honor, but i can see the problem being cause by MR Bill Donohue that made this a crusade, even getting the city council on it, and he is threaten a private building with violence on her birthday???? please if they said no, move on , find another building that will do it, why to create a such mess and now scream for the catholics to raise up against the ESB, this is the problem with religious people, if they are denied something they want they will fight in the name of Christ, she was a simple person that didn't care at all for this kind things, do you think if she was alive today , she would wanted a building to be lit on her honor or have all the 40000 Catholics, that is going to camp in front of the building , to give $1 each to help the poor ??? I think she would had taken the second one. Regarding Mr Bill Donohue I think he just want to create a name for himself to show some people he has followers, regarding Mrs Quinn, please go do your job in the city hall and make sure ,us , the New Yorkers don't get robbed by city council , that is wasting of the taxes money on this ,instead they should be meeting over to fix the city's problem and not waging war against a private building in a private matter. Mr Donohue get off your high horse and go help the poor on her birthday (if you are true Christian and true Catholic you will do what she did, HELP OTHERS IN NEEDED ) that is more noble than fight for a building to be lit.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
  14. FerOsc

    Regardless of religion, this woman spent her life in service to the needy. Isn't that something to be honored? I agree with personal donations of time in her honor for this event, but ESB should put on its lights for her too. They have honored less deserving people with greater religious ties (Archbishop JJ O'Conner).

    June 10, 2010 at 3:17 pm |

    It's a good policy. If they won't consider doing it for any other religious figure, they shouldn't light it up for Mother T. If they were to cave, next they would have to light for Bin Laden’s birthday since many believe that his life's work is worth following and praising. It's an idiotic request by someone that can't think beyond himself.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
    • Bazelope

      Are you retarded???

      June 10, 2010 at 7:30 pm |
  16. Terik Ororke

    What does it say when one honors a communist dictator and system that has killed millions for a false ideology, while neglecting a person who tried to really make the world a much better place for those truly unable to help themselves? Mother Teresa chose wisely –the ESB owners obviously do not have a clue.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:15 pm |
  17. Martin

    It's really quite simple. Outside of the obvious holidays, the ESB is usually lit up for things that have a special connection with NYC someone of prominence who comes here, an event taking place here (like a parade), etc. I have lived and worked in Manhattan for over 25 years (and have been going to a dentist in the ESB for all those years) and can tell you that there is no special affinity between NYC and Mother Teresa. She's not being dissed, she's just not on their radar. What a tempest in a teapot!

    June 10, 2010 at 3:15 pm |
  18. SusanF

    Mother Teresa herself, on the occasion of receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, stated that earthly rewards were important only if they helped her help the world's needy. Lighting a monument would mean nothing. Protesting the lack of light and spreading anger and hatred she would find abhorrent. When Mother Teresa received the prize, she was asked, "What can we do to promote world peace?" She answered "Go home and love your family." I recommend we take her advice.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:14 pm |
  19. Mary Margaret Cannon

    Wow. . . .The anger and the bigotry and the sweeping accusations in these posts = breathtaking. . . .I would never in a million years have imagined that this issue would have escalated in such a fashion - with either the Empire State Building or with the posters here. . . .

    It's really hard for me to read Bill Donohue's comments, too - I feel bad for him, that he makes his points in such a negative fashion - which understandably shuts people down so they cannot bear to listen to him. I wish he didn't write and speak with such anger.

    Whether Mother Teresa was Catholic or whether she'll be named a saint - is really immaterial. . . .One doesn't have to believe in God or respect the Church, to acknowledge that Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize and >100 awards from countries around the world.

    I agree that Mother wouldn't care in the slightest about getting lights shone on the ESB. My question = why is it such a big deal for the management of the ESB?

    They already honor major religious holidays, which is great. They honor the winners of the Super Bowl and the World Series, which is great. They have even honored Mariah Carey, Frank Sinatra and the DVD release of The Simpsons - which is fun!

    I am puzzled that they thought that the founding of the Communist Chinese Government was worth honoring, when they are directly responsible for killing millions of their own citizens - which was extremely controversial.

    But - Particularly since the ESB already honored Cardinal O'Connor and Pope John Paul II - it's just weird that they would pick Mother Teresa's 100th Birthday to ignore. . . .She wasn't perfect - but she did care for thousands of people and elevated everyone's consciousness about the poor. . . She didn't live in grandeur - she lived as the poor lived - and never checked someone's religion or nationality or race before caring for them.

    What's the big deal?? Why all the hate??
    BTW - there's a FB page with >600 people asking the ESB to honor Ringo Starr on his 70th Birthday (and I LOVE the Beatles!) - I hope Ringo Starr is honored - and I also hope that Mother Teresa is as well.

    It's uplifting. It's good. It doesn't harm anyone - it just reminds us that one person can indeed change the world.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:10 pm |
  20. AGuest9

    The nun who raised people up from sewers I'M SURE wouldn't care that the Empire State Building isn't going to put on a light show for her. How 'bout feeding some of her sheep who sleep within sight of the building?

    June 10, 2010 at 3:06 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.