Honoring Mother Teresa

The Missionaries of Charity have created a Web page devoted to the upcoming centenary of Mother Teresa's birth, which will be celebrated on August 26. It's an island of calm that features, among other things, a recording of Mother Teresa reciting the Prayer of St. Francis.The prayer, though written in the 20th century, is a fitting way to remember the example of both Francis of Assisi and Teresa of Calcutta for their humility, compassion for all, and willingness to forgive all wrongs.Not fitting, though, is to make Mother Teresa's centenary an occasion for manufactured outrage, resentment and religiously based anger. In case you haven't noticed, the Catholic League is up to "Day 17 of the protest campaign for Mother Teresa." The latest from the Catholic League's president, Bill Donohue:

Today I am writing to every Catholic college and university in the state of New York informing them of our protest demonstration on August 26 outside the Empire State Building on 34th Street and 5th Avenue.

The rally is being held to protest the decision of Anthony Malkin, the owner of the storied building, not to overrule those who have chosen to deny a tribute to Mother Teresa: our request to have the towers shine blue and white, the colors of her congregation, on August 26th, the 100th anniversary of her birthday, was denied without explanation. Yet the same persons who chose to stiff Mother Teresa decided to honor the Chinese Communist revolution last year, even though 77 million innocent men, women and children were murdered under Mao Zedong.

It is true that roughly 130 times a year, management of the Empire State Building sends a team of five workers to change the colors of the 180 lights that illuminate the skyscraper's spire. It takes them six hours to snap on a two-foot colored disc over each light, according to an article earlier this year in The Record, a New Jersey newspaper.Easter, Christmas and St. Patrick's Day are celebrated in light, and other recent events included Caribbean Week, university graduations, the March of Dimes and, yes, the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China.I don't know why the Empire State Building refuses to change its lights to honor Mother Teresa; the Malkin company's public relations firm, Edelman, wouldn't say when I called. I don't know why the Chinese government was honored, although it is safe to say that real estate tycoons such as the Malkins are not Maoists. (They would seem very unlikely targets of red-baiting.)Mr. Donohue, meanwhile, is playing this for all it is worth in media exposure. He says he has been writing letters to every Catholic high school in the New York region, to all the bishops of the U.S. and India, to government officials at many levels, all urging what he evidently hopes will be a mass demonstration of Catholic influence and outrage outside the Empire State Building on the anniversary of Mother Teresa's birth. He is determined to bend the building's owners to his will.But the way to honor Mother Teresa is to emulate her. To turn her centenary into an occasion for exaggerating wrongs rather than forgiving them, for fanning discord and resentment rather than creating harmony, would be to misuse Mother Teresa's legacy as an instrument for something other than peace.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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