Young adults seek spiritual enlightenment

19 January 2007


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Video: Some 250 young professionals from 33 countries attended the December 2006 Changing Times conference. These participants are from Namibia and Italy.

HLUBOKA, Czech Republic — Joseph Fradella is a civil engineer from the United States. Joanna Portillo is a recent college graduate from El Salvador. Ndiitah Nghipondoka is an agricultural development consultant from Namibia.

From 25 to 31 December 2006, these three and 247 other young professionals from 33 countries chose to spend their precious December holiday in a sleepy medieval village in the Czech Republic. Their aim was to explore ways to pursue careers in a world dominated by material concerns and still have spiritual authenticity and balance in their lives.

"I wanted to find a way to be a Baha'i in all that I do," said Ms. Nghipondoka. "There is no time to retreat into a cave to try and be spiritual. And there is no time to neglect my spirituality to find ways to meet the material demands of modern living. I had to find balance -- this is why I came."

The village of Hluboka was the venue for the fifth year running of a conference called Changing Times. The gathering has become a highlight in the year for many young adults who are members of the Baha'i Faith.

Organizers said the idea behind the conference is to provide interaction between up-and-coming professionals and people who are established in careers and still maintaining spiritually rewarding lives.

Translating religious issues from theory to practice was a focus, said Ms. Nghipondoka - "real life issues like economics, practical emotional issues like how to have a healthy marriage and even issues like how one can use the Internet for the betterment of mankind."

Ms. Portillo added: "The conference showed me how people can live spiritually powerful lives while doing everyday careers."

Giuseppe Robiati, managing director of an industrial group based in Milan, Italy, who made a presentation at the gathering, said the event addresses a wide range of issues to help young people.

Participants engage in conversation between sessions.SLIDESHOW
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Participants engage in conversation between sessions.

"This year the participants were able to look into the relationships between spirituality, psychology and the modern economy," he said.

A major goal was to empower participants to go back to their own communities and be of service to others.

"I get so much inspiration from seeing the people that are successful because of their dedication to their Faith," said Ms. Nghipondoka. "And that encourages me to be as excellent as I can be -- both in my work and in the Faith. I have seen that it can be done and I know that I can do it, too. But to do it, means to do it. ...At the end of the day it comes down to me implementing these ideas in my own life."

Participants also said they gained a better appreciation for their religion.

"I feel that Changing Times helped me in my general understanding of spiritual truths - and in particular the Baha'i spiritual teachings of our time," said Mr. Fradella. "The conference helped me to gain a very broad understanding of how to apply Baha'i principles to activities as diverse as being a fine artist to working in a board room."

Some of the speakers at the conference included:

- Mary K. Radpour, a licensed clinical social worker in private practice who said she believed most mental health problems could be resolved through taking care of one's spiritual needs.

- Fariborz Sahba, an architect who designed and built what CNN has called one of the most visited buildings in the world - the Baha'i House of Worship in New Delhi, India. In a presentation titled "The Architecture of Life," he compared life to water, saying that one can view water in different ways -- from something that simply takes the form of its container to something as lofty as a beautiful rainbow. He asked his listeners to look at life through their higher vision and see the rainbows that exist everywhere.

- Mark Bamford, an award-winning film writer and director whose first short film, "Hero," played at international film festivals and was sold worldwide for television use. He pointed out that people in the entertainment world often can offer lessons to those seeking to balance spiritual and material needs.