On Aug. 26 people around the world will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Blessed Mother Teresa. Our neighbors to the west have petitioned for, and were granted, a special illumination of the Peace Bridge in honor of Blessed Mother Teresa. The openness of a private, international company to honor Blessed Mother Teresa in this way speaks not only of her impact on the world, but also the good relationship between the Catholic community of Buffalo with the secular community there.
In contrast, there also is a protest rally underfoot in New York City because the Empire State Building refused a similar request. I must say, as someone who regularly interacts with secular college institutions, I am concerned about this approach to the rejection. The Empire State Building is a privately owned building and is under no obligation to honor Blessed Mother Teresa, even if they had previously honored other religious figures. It is entirely their prerogative to change or adapt their policies. Of course, we can and should try to influence their policies as appropriate, but not by disrespecting their autonomy. The protest seems the least effective way for Catholics to persuade a private institution to change its mind, and may even come across as a bullying technique.
I believe that the church would be better served to raise up and celebrate those places, such as the Peace Bridge, that have taken the opportunity to honor someone as special as Blessed Mother Teresa. I know that this type of acceptance usually occurs when the individuals of the community have had positive, life-giving experiences with the Catholic Church. These types of relationships are what help to facilitate the church’s mission in the world.