Seeing Mount Carmel terraces for the first time, Baha'is feel as if they are in "paradise"

20 May 2001

HAIFA, Israel — Like so many others among the some 3,000 Baha'is

arriving here today and seeing for the first time a series of magnificent gardened

terraces on Mount Carmel, Salomeea Romanescu of Romania could only compare her

experience to visiting "paradise on earth."

"The sound of the water is like a divine song," said the 37-year-old educator from

Bucharest. "Combined with the smell of the flowers and the harmony of the colors, all

these sensations, they give you a feeling of plentitude and peace.

"I was wanting all my life to feel such a feeling of peace and harmony and I am very

happy now to be able to come here and experience it," she added.

Arriving today for a week-long program of activities in celebration of the

inauguration of the terraces were Baha'i delegations representing more than 180

countries. They came with high hopes and great expectations, eager to get a look at a

project that, over the last ten years and at a cost of some $250 million, has

virtually reshaped Mount Carmel.

"It has been my dream to come here, and now my dreams have come true," said Jaipal

Bali Singh, a 42-year-old businessman from Srinagar, Kashmir, India, who has been a

Baha'i since 1986. "For me, this is the holiest place on earth."

Indeed, Mount Carmel, which is sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims, also looms

large in Baha'i history and prophetic expectations. Baha'u'llah, the Faith's

Founder, chose Mount Carmel as the site of the spiritual and administrative center of

His cause in the 1890s when He was a prisoner here of the Ottoman Empire and the

mountain slope was covered with little more than rocks and shrubs. He prophesied much

greatness for Mount Carmel in the future.

Now, the fact that such extraordinary gardens, as well as two majestic new

administrative buildings, have arisen from those humble beginnings is a source of

great pride to Baha'is, who raised the funds for their completion entirely from among

themselves.

"When I arrived, I came here directly from the bus and tears just came to my eyes

because of the beauty and spirituality of these terraces," said Jean-Marie Nau, a

delegate from Luxembourg. "This is a fulfillment of the prophecies of our Faith, that

these structures would be built here."

The celebration of the completion of these projects begins on Monday with a

devotional visit by the 3,000 Baha'is assembled here to the resting place of

Baha'u'llah, at Bahji, located across Haifa Bay in the city of Acre.

On Tuesday, 22 May, the delegates will assemble for a concert at the base of Mount

Carmel to officially inaugurate the terraces, which extend nearly one kilometer up

the mountainside. The concert will feature the premier of two orchestral works

composed especially for the occasion. Hundreds of Baha'i communities in other

countries are expected to watch the concert and inaugural ceremony through a live

satellite feed and Webcast.

On Wednesday, the 3000 delegates will ascend the mountain as a group, climbing the

stairs towards the Shrine of the Bab, which is the focus of the terraces and the

second-most holy place to Baha'is after Bahji.

On Thursday and Friday, further cultural, informational and devotional programs will

be held on Mount Carmel and at the nearby Haifa Convention Centre.

"Over the course of the next few days, the Baha'is gathered here from around the

world will celebrate what we feel is a significant achievement in the creation of

these terraces," said Douglas Samimi-Moore, Program Coordinator for the inaugural

events. "One of the themes to the overall program will be a look back at the growth

and development of the Baha'i Faith in the 20th century -- and a look ahead at the

future.

"The people gathered here represent the kind of world we are working for as Baha'is,

a unified community of people from every nation, religion, race, ethnic group and

culture," said Mr. Samimi-Moore. "And they are people, by and large, who have been

working towards this goal, whether in Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe or other

regions of the world."

Many of the participants arriving today indeed felt that the diversity of the

gathering itself is very much a fulfillment of Baha'u'llah's vision for humanity.

"To meet so many brothers and sisters, from different countries, speaking different

languages, it brings me great happiness," said Claudio Limachi, a member of the

Quechua people who is part of the delegation from Bolivia. "I feel like I am next to

God, with people of different colors, from different places, and that we are flowers

of one garden."

Peter Wathum Onega, a 48-year-old farmer from a remote village in northwestern

Uganda, also said that the combination of beautiful gardens and diverse people was

his idea of heaven.

"When you see this place, you see that peace can come in the world," said Mr. Onega.

"The beauty here, it can bring people together. It is, like the Bible says, the

Kingdom of God on earth."