Mother Teresa at 100: Catholic irony and the Empire State Building squabble

By Tracy Grant Mother Teresa must be spinning. Catholic organizations are sniping at each other over the best way to … Continued

By Tracy Grant

Mother Teresa must be spinning.

Catholic organizations are sniping at each other over the best way to honor the 100th anniversary of Mother Teresa’s birth on Aug. 26. The controversy started when Catholic League president Bill Donohue called on the management of the Empire State Building to light the building in white and blue to honor the Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the Missionaries of Charity.

When building management declined–perhaps thinking that most New Yorkers would see a blue and white edifice as being symbolic of the New York Giants or Yankees instead of someone who fits most definitions of “saint”–Donohue berated building management as “bigots.” He apparently has no sense of irony for he has called on Catholics nationwide to sign petitions to get the woman, who spent much of her 87 years humbly serving the poorest of the poor and the least of our brothers, up in lights as if she were “Mother Teresa–the Musical.”

But now “progressive” Catholic organizations are getting into the act. A press release signed by 13 Catholic groups last week said that “Mr. Donohue dishonestly claims to represent Catholics” and encouraged the Empire State Building to stand by their decision. Which of course, really only serves to elevate the the controversy as the anniversary approaches next week. It’s a pervision of the classic playground taunt “My dad is stronger than yours” but this time the chant goes something like “My group is more Catholic than yours.”

Did I mention that Mother Teresa must be spinning?

When Mother Teresa received permission from the Vatican to start her order in 1950 she said that their mission would be to care for “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.”

Instead of wasting time trying to decide which group is the holiest of the holy when it comes to deciding how Mother Teresa should be honored, why doesn’t the Catholic League and the progressive signatories of the latest press release (which include Call to Action, Catholics for Choice and the Women’s Ordination Conference) simply decide that they will quietly–that would mean without issuing press releases–make Aug. 26 a day of service. A day when the homeless on the street aren’t passed by but are given a sandwich, a cup of coffee and a few minutes of conversation; a day when those who have outlived family and friends have their hands held and their hair combed; a day when a book is placed into the hand of a child who has never held one before.

That, just maybe, would make Mother Teresa smile.


  • Rongoklunk

    I’d like to recommend to all who have any curiousity about Mother T, to read Christopher Hitchen’s book “The Missionary Position”. A delightful read. She was no angel. But then they never are – are they?

  • GodsGadfly

    It should be noted that Bl. Teresa originally founded her order, according to the book _Come Be My Light_, to specifically help poor families to have a better life–a need the Church still has.It should also be noted that this isn’t just “who’s better.” The “Women’s Ordination Conference” supports something that is heretical, according to numerous Church documents dating back to the earliest Councils, where women’s ordination was considered and rejected.New Ways Ministry cannot be called Catholic because it was officially censured by the Vatican, and its founders were banned from participating in “ministry” to homosexuals.None of these 13 groups can even claim to be “Catholic,” any more than the Anglican Church, the Arians, the Greek Orthodox, or the Manicheans can claim to be Catholics.They are not “Dissinters”; they are heretics.

  • Climacus

    Tracy Grant, Godsgadfly has a point. It does seem misleading to refer to those outfits as Catholic groups when the Catholic Church itself has identified them as ranging from non-Catholic to downright anti-Catholic. Instead of referring to them as “progressive” Catholic groups, perhaps you should have put the quotation marks around “Catholic”. Or even, since at least a few of them seem to be fronts with no discernible membership, around “groups”.To the reader who recommended Hitchens’ book The Missionary Position – why did you apparently take it at face value? It’s not much more than an an extended opinion piece – no footnotes, no supporting citations for the controversial claims. It has all the hallmarks of a smear job.

  • terpfann1

    I know the point of the story is to highlight the infighting between purported Catholic groups, but I think it is interesting to note that the Empire State Building has been lit blue and white for things other than the Yankees when the owners saw fit. I took a quick look at the lighting schedule on their web site and, just in the last year, they did it at least twice–once for Crain’s New York Business 25th Anniversary and once for Hanukkah. So, while Bill Donohue’s name calling is over the top, I do think there is reason to wonder about the decision by building management. It’s their building and they can do what they want; and, I am sure Mother Theresa wouldn’t care, but the reason can’t simply be because it might be confused with the Yankees.

Read More Articles

Valle Header Art
My Life Depended on the Very Act of Writing

How I was saved by writing about God and cancer.

Sociologist: Religion Can Predict Sexual Behavior

“Religion and sex are tracking each other like never before,” says sociologist Mark Regnerus.

The Internet Is Not Killing Religion. So What Is?

Why is religion in decline in the modern world? And what can save it?

river dusk
Cleaner, Lighter, Closer

What’s a fella got to do to be baptized?

Magical Thinking and the Canonization of Two Popes

Why Pope Francis is canonizing two popes for all of the world wide web to see.

An Ayatollah’s Gift to Baha’is, Iran’s Largest Religious Minority

An ayatollah offers a beautiful symbolic gesture against a backdrop of violent persecution.

Screenshot 2014-04-23 11.40.54
Atheists Bad, Christians Good: A Review of “God’s Not Dead”

A smug Christian movie about smug atheists leads to an inevitable happy ending.

Ten Ways to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly

The author of the Church of England’s autism guidelines shares advice any church can follow.

Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.

Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.