Catholics Mount Campaign to Light Up Empire State Building for Mother Teresa

A Catholic group is rallying its troops after it says New York's Empire State Building "stiffed" Mother Teresa, denying a request to light up the landmark in blue and white lights, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize winner's birth.

"To stiff Mother Teresa while giving this honor to every other Tom, Dick and Harry is not going to sit well with Catholics," said Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, which initiated the request for the commemorative lighting. The upper floors of the Empire State, New York's tallest building, are often lit in festive colors for special occasions.

Three months after the Catholic League, which is considered a conservative group, submitted its application, its leaders say they were stunned to receive a rejection. No explanation was given.

Since then, Donohue, a well-known and often polarizing figure involved in Catholic American politics for nearly two decades, has mounted an ever-louder campaign to convince the building's owners to reverse their decision.

The league has now gathered 40,000 signatures, enlisted the support of several New York City Council members -- including the council's speaker -- and has vowed to gather thousands of Catholics to demonstrate on the street outside the Empire State Building on Aug. 26, Mother Teresa's birthday, and the date of the hoped-for lighting commemoration.

Malkin Holdings, the building's owner, was silent on the matter until Wednesday, releasing a statement just before two City Council members held a press conference on the steps of City Hall. They announced a council resolution asking Malkin to reverse course.

The terse, written statement from Anthony Malkin, CEO and president, said the Empire State Building celebrates Easter, Eid al Fitr, Hanukkah, and Christmas, with themed lighting, and, "As a privately owned building, ESB has a specific policy against any other lighting for religious figures or requests by religions and religious organizations."

The Catholic League and its allies called the long-awaited statement less than illuminating. "Malkin is either misinformed or he is lying," said Donohue, who said that John Cardinal O'Connor's death was recognized with red and white lighting in 2005. The death of Pope John Paul II was marked with a dimming of the lights overnight.

The company now known as Malkin Holdings took over the Empire State Building in 2006, but some iteration of the company has held ownership in the building since 1961, when Anthony Malkin's grandfather purchased it with Harry Helmsley.

The company does not post information on its website about how it chooses from among the voluminous applications it receives each year. Several calls to a company spokesman were not returned.

In 2009, Anthony Malkin told the New York Times in 2009, "We try to use the lighting to celebrate everybody who thinks highly of the building. We do important Western holidays, we have fun with the Mets versus the Yankees or the Jets versus the Giants."

More unexpectedly, in 2008, the tower lit up in pink, purple and white on the occasion of Mariah Carey's new album. It has also been lit in conjunction with AIDS, breast cancer, and other health-awareness events. In May, the tower was lit for the Salute to Israel parade. It was once colored tie-dye in honor of a Grateful Dead exhibition, and later this month, it will light up lavender and white for Gay Pride Week.

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