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.


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