Dean of Westminster Abbey highlights need for unity

18 March 2008

LONDON — A passage from the Baha'i teachings about the relationship between human beings and the environment was read as part of the 2008 observance of Commonwealth Day at Westminster Abbey.

"The Environment - Our Future" was the theme of this year's program, held on 10 March in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II, head of the Commonwealth; Prince Philip; and representatives of all 53 nations of the Commonwealth and of the major religions.

In opening remarks, the Very Rev. Dr. John Hall, dean of Westminster, talked about the need for unity among people.

"As human beings we are too ready to think of what divides us rather than what unites us," he said. "Commonwealth Day is an opportunity to concentrate on how we are united: as human beings; as citizens of the Commonwealth; as inhabitants of one world; as children of one heavenly Father, each one made and loved by God and precious in His sight."

In her Commonwealth Day message, Queen Elizabeth observed that all actions that help protect the environment can "have a real and positive effect on the lives of others."

"It is important to remember that the environmental choices available in some countries may not be an option for others," she noted.

"In some parts of the world, for example, fossil fuels can be used more sparingly and buildings can be made of more efficient, sustainable materials; but it is far harder to expect someone to adapt if he or she relies on the trees of a local forest for fuel, shelter and livelihood. If we recognize the interests and needs of the people who are most affected, we can work with them to bring about lasting change."

Representatives of the United Kingdom's nine major religions read passages from their faith traditions on the subject of the environment.

The secretary for external affairs of the UK Baha'i community, Robert Weinberg, read a combination of two extracts of letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha'i Faith, for the Baha'i contribution to the program.

"We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it," he read. "We need a change of heart, a reframing of all our conceptions and a new orientation of our activities. The inward life of man as well as his outward environment have to be reshaped if human salvation is to be secured."

The colorful program included music and dance from various Commonwealth countries, including an African children's choir, an extract from Joseph Haydn's oratorio, "The Creation," sung by New Zealand-born soprano Madeleine Pierard, and an exuberant performance by the London-based Maori cultural group Ngati Ranana.