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. Name

    I think this is stupid beyond words. Oh course when someone doesn't do something for you it's Anti-. I mean, the Empire State building refused to light up for me when I finally beat Contra. That's Anti-Contraism, and I spent the day protesting.

    Ignorance aside. If anyone goes to protest instead of helping someone on this catholic figures 'birthday' (Note: I don't believe it's a birthday unless you live to see it) then that shows how ignorant some good loving zealots are.

    June 10, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
  2. AMP

    Many people do not know the fact about her organization. They were and they are brainwashing poors and converting them. Honest organzations do help poor but does not convert.

    June 10, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
    • Syphon Filter

      They say the biggest Ponzi scheme is Charitable Organizations. I agree, but mother Teresa was physically out there helping the poor and needy. Sorry, 1 point for Mother Teresa 0 Points for the greedy corporations.

      June 10, 2010 at 5:10 pm |
  3. PiercedPsycho

    Maybe they disagreed with how Mother Theresa was a fervent supporter of India's caste system, which allowed her to treat the poor she was so famous for and continue to feel good about herself.

    June 10, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
    • Mosman

      PiercedPsych: I offer you a challenge. Raise a child, take care of an invalid, look after an elderly parent. Keep doing it until it is no longer fun. After you are exhaused and have reached the edge of sanity, keep going. Then decide how good you feel about yourself.

      June 10, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
  4. laura

    Mother Theresa never claimed to be perfect,she did alot of good in India & the Little Sisters of the Poor still do good works throughout the country. She would not want fanfare & lights. Keep it simple. St Francis said "Preach the Gospel at all times & if necessary use words" –this is how she lived her life. United We Stand..Peace to all

    June 10, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
  5. Moi

    Light or no light... is it really an extremely important subject, so that all media headlines have been talking about it for days?!

    June 10, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
  6. Boof

    I'll wager that if you could ask Mother Teresa, she would prefer no celebration at all. She lived a simple life based on charity and compassion. These people should put all that energy to good use. They'd sleep better at night.

    June 10, 2010 at 4:26 pm |
  7. fronco123

    For all the sick and poor and children she helped, i call this bigotry.

    June 10, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
  8. tyson

    i don't see 40000 catholics goin to rome to protest the priests raping lil boys for years and year, maybe they should get their priorities straight and concentrate on something worth while

    June 10, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
  9. Billy

    So yeah...you guys DO know this is the same person that denied food and supplies for the people who were sick and dying because their "suffering" brought them closer to god...right?

    June 10, 2010 at 4:18 pm |
    • Wyatt

      You know this for a fact Billy? Perhaps you believe that everything you read is true.

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

    Why did they deny the request to light it up for Mother Teresa? Are they already obligated to light it up to celebrate Kim Jong Il's birthday that night or something?

    June 10, 2010 at 4:17 pm |
  11. NYS Resident

    Don't they realize that NYS is in a budget crisis? Hell, they won't even turn the AC on in the building I work in (I work for the state), and they want special lights. OK, that's cool. Are they gonna put them up? What about honoring everyone who turns 100? Next thing you'll know everyone's going to scream about not getting the ESB lit up for their "special" occasion. Whomever has the most toys ($$$) wins. Lights aren't cheap!

    June 10, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
  12. Tex

    I'm a devout Catholic and feel that since this is a privately owned building, the owner can turn on his lights for whatever he pleases. He does, after all, pay the bills. She is a great example of how to live a life of love, though.

    June 10, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
  13. Tom

    "Why don't we light it up for the anniversary of Mohammad's death?" Because Mother Teresa did not marry a nine year old.

    June 10, 2010 at 4:13 pm |
  14. JenniferWebb

    I can only imagine that Mother Teresa wouldn't give 2 hoots about this. However, if they're not going to light up for Mother Teresa, then the LEAST they can do is DONATE the $$ they're going to save in electricity to Mother Teresa's foundation.

    June 10, 2010 at 4:13 pm |
  15. Matt Gordon MD

    The catholic Corp can easily afford to buy a building and light it for all eternity. The catholic Corp propped this old nun up in a tightly managed PR gig.

    June 10, 2010 at 4:11 pm |
  16. Barney

    gimli420 is a fool. mother teresa didn't just represent her religion. she respresented mankind because all she did was be a missionary to the poor and needy all over the world. i'm talking about people who don't have running water. people who are desolate. that was her life's work. that building should be lit for that reason and that reason alone. nobody was a champion for the needy like mother teresa. nobody. you just never heard about it because she didn't ask for attention. you're an idiot.

    June 10, 2010 at 4:11 pm |
  17. Will

    I guess that lighting up the building on behalf of Communist China is acceptable to the, ahem, "chosen people" who own this building, but not a prominent Christian figure and humanitarian.

    These people are our "friends"?

    June 10, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
  18. nymets

    Donahue is almost as bad a reactionary as that dude from the Anti Defamation League who has always got his panties in a bunch about something. This isnt Anti Catholicism and he is in fantasty land by even thinking it's ok to say that. Either way, there are FAR more important things for catholics to worry about then this. Do the same people who protest outside the ESB about this protest outside their churches regarding pedophila? I'm thinking probably not.

    June 10, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
  19. gimli420

    Mother Teresa was a reptile. She promoted the Duvalier dictators in Haiti just because they opposed birth control. Her clinics rinsed needles and syringes in lukewarm water while she demanded (and received) free cardiac care from an elite facility. Her orphanges beat and abused children. She'd be burning in hell if there was such a place.

    June 10, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
  20. MasterBlaster

    Any one know what religon the owners of ESB are? Maybe they dont like christians?

    June 10, 2010 at 3:56 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.