Government officials visit Baha'i center
HAVANA — Senior government officials and representatives of diverse religious groups in Cuba gathered with Baha'is for an interreligious event in the newly reconstructed Baha'i center in central Havana last month.
Caridad Diego Bello, the chief of religious affairs in the Cuban government, and two other officials from her office joined Baha'is and representatives from Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and African Yoruba religious communities at the gathering, which was held on 23 May 2005.
Ms. Diego expressed her gratitude to the Baha'i community of Cuba for bringing together the diverse group, and then spoke about the major social principles of the Baha'i Faith and on the theme of inter-religious harmony.
"These are principles that even I as a non-follower of any religion would agree with," said Ms. Diego, who is a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba.
Among the social principles of the Baha'i Faith are the equality of women and men, racial unity, and the abolition of extremes of wealth and poverty.
The inter-religious event was the second major gathering held this year in the Baha'i center, which was acquired by the Baha'i community in 1956 but which recently required complete rebuilding.
Members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Cuba hosted Ms. Diego and her staff on a tour of the center.
The secretary of the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Havana, Ernesto Santirso, welcomed all the guests and explained that the purpose of the gathering was to open the center to other religious communities.
Mr. Santirso read extracts from the 2002 message by the Universal House of Justice to the world's religious leaders in which the Baha'i governing council supported inter-faith dialogue and called upon those involved to address the implications of "the over-arching truth that God is one and that, beyond all diversity of cultural expression and human interpretation, religion is likewise one." (Full text available at: http://www.bahai.org/article-1-1-0-1.html)
After Baha'i speakers read quotations from Baha'u'llah on religious harmony, the representative of the Jewish community, Jose Miller, addressed the gathering.
"Salvation comes from deeds and not from beliefs alone," Dr. Miller said.
"We should have deeds that will improve the condition of the world today and bring peace to our society."
A representative of the Institute for Bible and Theological Studies said the three Baha'is currently studying Christian theology with the Institute were an important asset to the school.
Among the other guests were the chairman of the Islamic Association, Pedro Linares, and a high priest (babalao) of the African Yoruba religion, Stanislav Berboa.
The Baha'i community of Cuba has five Local Spiritual Assemblies and has another center in Camaguey. The community has regular children's classes, devotional meetings, and study circles where guests are welcome.
The first Local Spiritual Assembly in Cuba was established in Havana in 1941. The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Cuba was formed in 1961.