Latin America marks key anniversary in establishment of Baha’i Faith
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — El Salvador and 20 other nations in Latin America and the Caribbean are this month electing their national Baha'i assembly for the 50th time.
The anniversary not only marks a milestone in the establishment of the Baha'i Faith in the Western Hemisphere, but the formation of those 21 assemblies in 1961 helped pave the way for the election two years later of the Universal House of Justice, the nine-member body that is now the worldwide head of the Baha'i Faith.
"To be able to elect the House of Justice, we first had to elect national assemblies," explained Gabriel Torres, who was a member of the first National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of El Salvador.
Mr. Torres shared his memories at a special session during El Salvador's 50th national convention, held this past weekend at the new Baha'i center in the capital city of San Salvador.
Others who spoke were Quentin and Jeanne Farrand – also among the nine people elected to the first Salvadoran Baha'i National Spiritual Assembly.
"It was such an emotional moment when (we learned) that 21 countries in Latin America would all form their national assemblies in 1961," Mrs. Farrand said.
At the time, added Mr. Farrand, there were just 24 active Baha'is in El Salvador. "I remember that there were only 11 people at the first summer school we had. Now our Baha'i Institute is too small to hold all the people."
There are several thousand Baha'is in El Salvador now, despite upheavals caused by civil war in the 1980s and early '90s that forced many people from their homes and significantly reduced the size of the Baha'i community.
More important than numbers, however, is the progress being made at the grassroots level to work with the wider community in contributing to the betterment of society, said Gabriela Velis, 32.
"Our work is aimed at raising the capacity of people to take charge of their own spiritual, social, and intellectual development," she said.
Activities include gatherings that strengthen the devotional character of the community; classes for children; groups that channel the energies of young people; and study circles where participants explore the application of spiritual teachings to their lives.
Festival of Ridvan
National Baha'i elections are held during the 12-day Festival of Ridvan, which begins each year on 21 April. Ridvan marks the anniversary of Baha'u'llah's declaration in 1863 that He is the Messenger of God for this age, the most recent in a line of divine educators that includes Buddha, Jesus, Krishna, Mohammed, Moses, Zoroaster, and others.
In its annual message for the Ridvan period addressed to the Baha'is of the world, the Universal House of Justice observed the growing ability of National Spiritual Assemblies across the globe to think and act strategically in nurturing community-building processes at the local level.
As core activities multiply, the message noted, they will be sustained by "men and women eager to improve material and spiritual conditions in their surroundings."
In addition to El Salvador, other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean where Baha'is are electing their National Spiritual Assembly for the 50th year include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
Historical photographs from the first national Baha'i election in each of these countries may be seen at http://news.bahai.org/story/ridvan2010/photographs.html.