In the silence that filled the hall as the final words of the 1 July 2013 message from the Universal House of Justice were read, the vision of a movement of youth shouldering responsibility for the betterment of the world, and the precious opportunity it represents, captivated the imagination and gave rise to a deep sense of commitment from the youth who sat listening in quiet contemplation.
In the heart of the city of Verona, known for its beauty and history, more than 300 young people from Italy and Sicily, some traveling by bus for up to 18 hours, spent three days together in a spirit of joyous fellowship. They gathered to talk about how they could engage hundreds and then thousands of their fellow youth, who share the same hope in their hearts that the world can change, into a conversation about how to apply Baha’u’llah’s Teachings to the life of a community.
When examining the implications of living a life in which all dimensions, both spiritual and material, strengthen each other, one participant said: "We are talking about something more than an action; being coherent is not another thing you 'have to do'. It is a realization that things in our life are connected, that we need and are needed by others, that our inner talents have a role in the collective life of society."
"We are talking about something more than an action; being coherent is not another thing you 'have to do'. It is a realization that things in our life are connected, that we need and are needed by others, that our inner talents have a role in the collective life of society."
A participant at the conference
The conference participants keenly felt the effects of a unified environment. One youth noted, “Unity multiplies strength, creates nearness to God and fosters social progress. This is what changes reality.” But it was not just the environment that had been created that helped them grow in their understanding. As one young person said, “This element of study and reflection gave structure and depth to our actions. It is very powerful.”
In their large and small group workshops, the youth examined the concept of true friendship. One participant shared his insight: “it consists in having a common purpose, and that is exactly the relationship that should also bind all members of society. I feel the true friendships created here can help me progress, even if we don’t meet each other again for a long time.”
Early on during the participants’ time together, the concept that the power to accomplish rests with God was introduced and was re-visited throughout the workshop discussions. As the youth examined all aspects of a community’s reality—the social, material, and spiritual—they increasingly recognized that the fundamental impetus for change is spiritual. One participant noted, "We are increasing our consciousness of the spiritual character of this endeavour … forces greater than us are sustaining us."
The empowerment of younger youth was identified as a vital requirement for the development of any community. Those gathered explored how thoughts could be nurtured in each generation so they could be equipped to fulfill the responsibility of contributing to the betterment of their neighbourhoods. One participant commented, "Younger youth need to be assisted to learn to make decisions, to recognize and develop healthy habits."
In the course of their study, some workshop groups felt inspired to sing as an expression of the happiness that they derived from learning. This elicited a response of pure joy and love in equal measure from fellow participants.
As the conference came to a close, a vibrant energy filled the hearts of each of the participants prepared to devote themselves to selfless service in their communities. One youth expressed this sentiment: “When you realize that living a life of service to others is the truest expression of our identity as a human being, you put service to humanity at the centre and then any act you do becomes an act of service.”
How significant that, a full 169 years later, the address of The Báb—Herald of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh—to the first 18 individuals to recognize His Teachings, many of whom were youth, was chosen as the final words shared with the conference participants. The youth listened intently to the message that gave rise to the unrivalled heroism of a generation of young people over a century ago. They recognized the generating impulse animating their own desire to contribute to the betterment of their communities and drew strength from the knowledge that their efforts are intimately connected to the generations before them, tracing over time the same story of humanity advancing together toward a noble destiny.
A group engages in a discussion during one of the conference sessions
Group sessions involved time for study, reflection, and the sharing of experiences
A glimpse of one of the evening arts presentations
Participants devised activities to articulate the concepts explored in the material that was studied
Songs were used to articulate the concepts during several of the sessions
A group of youth studies one of the sections of the material
Singing and other arts were a component of both plenary and group sessions
A spirit of joy and focus imbued the atmosphere
The conference was an opportunity for the participants to reflect together about the contribution they can make to the spiritual and social development of their communities
Friends shared songs and learned new ones during the workshops