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Astorians celebrate 100th birthday of the late Mother Teresa

Hundreds of Astoria residents turned out to pay homage to Mother Teresa last week following the Empire State Building’s refusal to commemorate the humanitarian’s 100th birthday by lighting up its spire.

Western Queens denizens crowded into Astoria’s Athens Square Park, at 30th Avenue and 30th Street, Aug. 25 for an interfaith ceremony to pay tribute to the Catholic nun, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work in 1979.

The Empire State Building’s owner turned down a request in June to light up one of its spires to celebrate Mother Teresa’s birthday on the grounds that the famous tower does not take lighting requests from religious organizations.

“Mother Teresa is one of the greatest humanitarians the world has ever known,” said City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), during Astoria’s candlelight vigil. “If everybody could be a little more like Mother Teresa, what a great thing. She never asked what your faith was before she helped you.”

Mother Teresa, who was of Albanian descent and Indian citizenship, founded the Ministries of Charity in 1950. For more than 45 years, she worked with the poor, sick and orphaned.

She was beatified by Pope John Paul II and given the title “Blessed Teresa of Calcutta” following her death in 1997.

The event kicked off with songs by the Astoria Performing Arts Center’s gospel choir, who sang “I Speak for Life.”

Blue and white, which are the colors of Mother Teresa’s order of nuns, balloons adorned the Astoria park.

“She was a great woman of God who served millions of people across the world,” said Bishop Mitchell Taylor, pastor of Long Island City’s Center for Hope International. “The Empire State may not light up the building for Mother Teresa, but we are lighting up our spirits on 30th and 30th for her.”

Some Catholics have been offended by the building owner’s decision. The Catholic League protested outside the building earlier in the day prior to the Astoria event, but one group, known as Catholics for Choice, praised the building’s owner for standing by his own rules.

Astoria’s religious leaders said the nun’s work helped people of all religions.

“She was not humble in fighting for equality, but she had a sense of humility,” said Paul Mulholland, of Astoria’s Affinity Lutheran Church. “It’s wonderful we are honoring the date of her birth, but we can honor her legacy by reaching out to people in need of a helping hand.”

Astoria Imam Shamsi Ali said the nun “represented faith in God and compassion to humanity.”

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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