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. Liz

    Dan said: "All this religious stuff is sickening."
    Some day you'll return to Spirit. I hope it is before the end of your lifetime. May God Bless you with clarity.

    As for the lights ... They've lit it up for a wide variety of people, events and non-Christian religious holidays. For goodness sake they've lit it up for The Simpsons Movie & Maria Carey. The request to broadcast via The Empire State Building a symbolic honor to Mother Theresa was a rightful one.

    June 10, 2010 at 5:52 pm |
  2. Jeff Gauthier

    I was once asked why I don't participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I'll be there.
    Mother Teresa – War – Peace

    June 10, 2010 at 5:50 pm |
  3. Chip Toronto

    Mother Theresa had no connection to New York. Turn the lights on in Calcutta or Eastern Europe where she was from.

    June 10, 2010 at 5:48 pm |
    • Kevin


      June 10, 2010 at 6:12 pm |
  4. Jeremy

    All I can say is good. The truth of what MT stood for is so far away from her legend it makes me want to throw up.

    June 10, 2010 at 5:46 pm |
  5. vor

    MT doesn't need no stinkin lights.......She is and always will be a light to us all. God bless!

    June 10, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
  6. Brian Shefford

    The only difference between Roman Catholics and Neo-Nazi's is that Neo-Nazi's openly and publically admit that they're an organized hate group.

    June 10, 2010 at 5:30 pm |
    • John

      Wow Brian, it sounds like you have done a good bit of hating as well!

      June 10, 2010 at 5:49 pm |
  7. baidiot

    I find it strange why the empire state building will not honor Mother Teresa. She was a humanitarian first a catholic second. She would care for the most deprived and dying desperate people in a sea of poverty. She would be the only one to reach out to the outcasts of society and would pick up someone completely emaciated on their deathbed with AIDS and run her hands over the persons face and talk to them,wash them, take care of them. No one else including their families would shun them. even though she was herself frail she was a human dynamo who brought a lot of hope and love to the hopeless.

    It is a shame that the Empire State Building is passing up a chance to honor someone who really is worth honoring.

    June 10, 2010 at 5:30 pm |
    • baidiot

      just wanted to pointed out as a non-Catholic but someone who had second hand experience in what good Mother Teresa brought to the slums of Calcutta

      June 10, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
  8. Alex

    The Catholic Church is upset about not lighting the Empire State Building up in recognition of one of it's most famous members 100th birthday? REALLY?!

    Maybe the Empire State Building should be lit up in recognition of every person that was a victim of child molestation, pedophilia, and other deplorable acts at the hands of Roman Catholic clergy.... the same acts that The Vatican knew about, and rather than removing the priests from all facets of Catholicism, simply threw donated money at the victim's families and then moved the priest to another parish to ruin more lives. If the Roman Catholic church cared so much about Mother Teresa, they might want to rethink their ban on allowing women to serve as Pastors.

    This is almost as funny as The Pope telling people in the hardest hit places for the AIDS virus in Africa to not wear condoms... then telling western leaders to not start wars.

    What a joke that continues to get funnier.

    June 10, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
  9. Kristian

    I am Catholic and believe that the best way to handle this would be a silent protest combined with feeding needy people, in front of the building. Doing something instead of just having a bunch of angry people shouting will make more of a statemen.t

    June 10, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
  10. paul lefebvre

    let them light up some building in India and and Africa, what has she done for New York's poor?

    June 10, 2010 at 5:24 pm |
  11. Dan

    Good! All this religious stuff is sickening. We don't need any more brainwashing that already exist. If mother Theresa had worked for a non-religious group she could have truly help. Instead, working for the catholic church, she was NOT the friend of the poor, she was the friends of poverty! What she did was criminal as what the pope is doing: you don't stop uneducated poor people from using condoms. On the contrary, you educate them and teach them how to use them to help them avoid pregnancy and STD. People are amazed at mother Theresa hugging an HIV positive poor: if she had done her job, that person would most likely not got HIV in the first place, but, for the catholic church, it is very important, vital to it's survival, to keep people poor and uneducated because this way, they can control them and abuse them (emotionally, financially and physically as we unfortunately discovered). In conclusion? Great decision to not turn the light on to celebrate the push to obscurantism from an extremely abusive church.

    June 10, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
  12. Justin

    They do the lights for Easter and Christmas but they are 'stiffing Christians'....yep makes perfect sense.

    June 10, 2010 at 5:17 pm |
  13. systemyou

    Peaceful people don't mean a thing in the land of conflict and corporate control.

    June 10, 2010 at 5:13 pm |
  14. Steve

    This is like reading Youtube comments - there's always someone spouting the latest fashionable nonsense from anti-Catholic atheists, someone ranting about the child abuse scandals in the Church (which, much like That Arizona Law, nobody really understands, but everyone loves to criticize), someone saying "all religions are evil", and several people completely off-topic. That's right, you folks are even dumber than Youtube.

    June 10, 2010 at 5:12 pm |
    • Jeff Gauthier

      Apparently Steve has never been abused, or has a child that has been abused, or knows of anyone that has been abused. We can't slight him for something he can't help; not having a heart.

      June 10, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
  15. Syphon Filter

    I guess the owners of the Empire state building wanted to save on electricity, but yet can turn on the lights when their states sports team does well. Let's weigh this out........Mother Teresa; A woman who served the poor & needy? New York Sports Teams: Wealthy Sport Athletes having fun playing their sport?............Sad, but it's the "New York State of Mind"

    June 10, 2010 at 5:07 pm |
  16. John

    Some of you need to look up the term hypocrisy. If this was happening to religous organizations in the minority, the outcry would be huge. For some reason it has become o.k. to bash Catholics. We now live in a country where it is acceptable to discriminate against people as long as they fall into a majority category. Those of you making disparaging remarks about the Catholic church would be denounced (and rightfully so) as biggots if you made them about Jews or Muslims.

    June 10, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
  17. Brian8907

    This is disgusting... accusing the owners of the ESB as being prejudice against Catholics simply because they wont turn on a few lights for her. They only do it for special occasions, and like they said no other religious occasions except those four holidays.

    June 10, 2010 at 5:02 pm |
  18. Raquel

    Feed the poor on that day and forget about the stupid building. If you can get 40K people to march in front of the Empire, why don't you have all of them bring 5 sandwiches per person and feed the homeless and bring food to families. Loosers!!

    June 10, 2010 at 4:58 pm |
  19. BIGDADDY17

    Remember your talking about HYMIE TOWN!

    June 10, 2010 at 4:58 pm |
    • Kevin

      That was pretty unnecessary

      June 10, 2010 at 6:14 pm |
  20. DBOneTime

    Salute to Israel Parade gets the Blue and White? Of course it does. It is the owner's choice what he wants to do with his building. This is a Jewish town. Right or wrong- those who own the buildings can do with them as they choose. Must be nice.

    June 10, 2010 at 4:51 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.