Lights Out for Mother Teresa

By Leona Salazar

I’d like you to remember back to August 31, 1997, when Princess Diana was killed in her limousine in Paris. Just five days later, a little nun named Mother Teresa, who founded the Missionaries of Charity, died in Kolkata, India. At the time of her death, Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity had over 4,000 sisters, and an associated brotherhood of 300 members, operating 610 missions in 123 countries.  These included hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, soup kitchens, children’s and family counseling programs, personal helpers, orphanages, and schools. The Missionaries of Charity were also aided by co-workers, who numbered over 1 million by the 1990s.  This simple woman, born in Albania, touched the lives of millions of people.  Yet, as an international “celebrity,” Princess Diana’s funeral overshadowed Mother Teresa’s just as I wrote how Michael Jackson’s death overshadowing the deaths of, in my opinion, far more important people.  The media —newspapers, magazines, television — couldn’t get enough of the life and death of Princess Diana but little coverage was given to the death of the little nun.

Fast forward to 2010.  On August 26th, the 100th birthday of Mother Teresa will be celebrated around the world – but not on the corner of 34th & Fifth in Manhattan.  That’s right, the management of the Empire State Building has refused a request to honor Mother Teresa’s birthday by lighting the tower in blue and white.

You may not know that the ESB changes its lights throughout the year to celebrate or commemorate different events and people.  Here are some examples:  green/white/orange to celebrate India Independence Day; red/white/blue for the Boy Scouts of America’s 100th anniversary; pink/purple/white for the release of Mariah Carey’s new album; green for St. Patrick’s Day; orange/black/white for Halloween; red/orange/yellow for Thanksgiving; red/green/green for Christmas; blue/white/blue for Hanukkah; green/pink/yellow for Easter; yellow for “The Simpsons;” and lavender/lavender/white for gay pride week.

According to the Catholic League President, Bill Donahue, who submitted the application requesting the lights in the color of Mother Teresa’s congregation, the Missionaries of Charity, the application was denied without explanation.  Mr. Donahue issued a statement after the denial:

“Mother Teresa received 124 awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Medal of Freedom.  She built hundreds of orphanages, hospitals, hospices, health clinics, homeless shelters, youth shelters and soup kitchens all over the world, and is revered in India for her work.  She created the first hospice in Greenwich Village for AIDS patients.  Not surprisingly, she was voted the most admired woman in the world three years in a row in the mid-1990s.  But she is not good enough to be honored by the Empire State Building.”

Mr. Donahue expressed his disbelief that in 2009 the ESB shone in red and yellow lights to honor the 60th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Revolution, which, under its founder, Mao Zedong, resulted in the deaths of 77 million people.  “The greatest mass murderer in history merited the same tribute being denied to Mother Teresa,” Mr. Donahue said.

Since its denial of the Catholic League’s application, the management company of the ESB has referred to “its policy” not to honor religious or political figures saying, “the ESB’s tower lights recognize key milestones, events, charitable organizations, countries and holidays throughout the world, not political or religion related events.”

Yes, I certainly recognize a property owner’s right to decide these matters, but the so-called “policy” isn’t applied across the board.

How are Christmas, Easter and Hanukkah not “religion-related events”?  How is the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who is celebrated with red/black/green lights, not a religious or political figure?

If there’s going to be a policy, then the policy should be evenly applied. The ESB’s lighting partner program was established in August 2006, after its prior managing agent was replaced, which explains why Cardinal John O’Connor was honored in 2000 and Pope John Paul II was honored when he died in 2005.

So why has Anthony Malkin, president of Malkin Holdings, which owns the ESB changed its so-called policy?”  According to Mr. Donahue, the policy wasn’t mentioned when his application was denied and that the owners are making up the rules as they go along.

Whatever the reasoning, I don’t get any policy which acknowledges the anniversary of the Chinese Communist Revolution and won’t celebrate the 100th birthday of Mother Teresa.  If I were a betting woman, I’d bet the ESB will honor Islam when the mosque at Ground Zero is built.

I don’t get it and, if you do, God bless you.

Author Bio:

For over twenty years, Leona has tried to heed her husband’s advice, “you don’t have to say everything you think.” She’s failed miserably. Licensed to practice law in California and Washington, she works exclusively in the area of child abuse and neglect. She considers herself a news junkie and writes about people and events on her website, “I Don’t Get It,” which she describes as the “musings of an almost 60-year old conservative woman on political, social and cultural life in America.” It’s not her intention to offend anyone who “gets it.” She just doesn’t. Originally from Brooklyn, and later Los Angeles, she now lives with her husband, Michael, on a beautiful island in the Pacific Northwest, which she describes as a bastion of liberalism.
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  • Mario

    I can see no reason to deny honoring this great figure and doing so for the trivial and strange selections of the past except that they have a personal dislike for Mother Teresa’s beliefs which must clash with their own. This leads to a conclusion they must be petty and very political animals themselves.

  • Chief

    If I lived in NYC, I’d join the protesters now in front of the Empire State Building. I can’t wait till they honor the Kardashian Litter!

  • steve

    I am not of the same church as mother Treasa but,,what she acomplished will be given to her in reward in Heaven..I try to do try to do some of the things she was working on and her devotion was all in her heart,,mind,,spirit,,and the the love of CHRIST..she leaves a example of HEART that is to be looked at by us all,,there’s a old saying do reandom act of kind ness every day..she did more than that..its true that the lights on the STATUE LIBERTY is a un kind thing to not give her a time of thanks and love back to her for her enonrmus work..the reason they wont is plan @ simply…MONEY…people with large amounts of money who dont care about example,,and a way to show how to live without violence don’t beleave people are interested in it,,because everything has to top everything,,and kindness finishes second or third..But she showed us there’s more to life than that..She might not be in lights,,but her thought,,of work she did and moved her will not be forgoten in time…Just remembered…

  • Roger Ward

    Apparently, the ESB’s refusal to honor Mother Theresa’s memory has struck a responsive chord with New Yorkers; there is a large rally/ demonstration scheduled there for tomorrow night, 8/26/10, to protest the decision. I just read a long article on the web that talked about it and listed some of the speakers expected.

  • JDO

    The owners/managers of the ESB have every right to honor whomever/whatever they want and ignore whoever/whatever they want, as it’s their building. I, also, have every right to be disgusted at their lack of moral character.

    I eagerly await the unveiling of what colors they will light the ESB with when Lady Gaga eventually releases her second (full) album.

  • Tim Ned

    I only hope Leona that the tenants of the ESB see your article. I’m sure a few short rent payments will change their opinion quickly. I’m forwarding your article and including my NYC friends. Thanks for reminding us of this important date.

  • Bruce A.

    Thanks, leona. This is a totally nutty decision by the ESB.

  • Roger Ward

    What’s wrong with you, Leona? It’s obvious by their decision that the ESB decision makers feel that Mother Theresa’s birthday is not as important as an album by Mariah Carey….and after all, the Simpsons are so exemplary! We should all understand these things; after all. it is their building and they have the right to set their own priorities and policy, as long as they’re applied equally and fairly.

    If It is their position that a religious figure such as Mother Theresa should not be honored, then we should understand why other religious personages such as MLK, John O’Connor and John Paul cannot be honored, too. (Oops.)

    It’s obvious that support for Easter, Christmas and Hannukah doesn’t violate their proscription of religion related events. (Hmmm.)

    Let’s talk about the ESB refusal to support political events, like the endorsement of China’s murderous leader. On second thought, let’s not. I have to stop now …. my head hurts.

  • Ron

    I think the ESB will be honoring the 90th anniversary of women’s right to vote on August 26. I think ESB has the right to have whatever policy it wants and did not owe anyone an explanation. The problem, as always, is that they tried to explain what appears to be a purely political decision and probably based on her opposition to abortion. On the other hand, we are free to honor Mother Teresa on the 26th. I am sure there will be many masses observing her 100th birthday. I am less concerned about whether the ESB honors her and more concerned that I honor her.

    • Leona Salazar

      Interesting point, Ron. ESB’s decision regarding the 19th Amendment commemoration must have been a most recent decision. Knowing I’d be posting my article today, I’ve checked the ESB website almost daily to be sure the powers that be did not change their minds regarding Mother Teresa and I hadn’t seen the lighting schedule for the 26th until today.

  • Richard

    Leona, if I were a betting man, I’d take that bet regarding Islam being honored with you. This is not a policy issue; this is a management company with the number one work-related injury; cranial-rectal insertion. They simply have to have their heads stuck in their butts; Its the only way I can even remotely begin to explain or understand the sheer idiocy involved in this decision.