Christian dignitaries greet Baha'i community on historic anniversary

15 April 2012

NAPLES, Italy — Prominent Christian clergymen paid tribute to the Baha'i community here, 100 years after the ship carrying 'Abdu'l-Baha to the United States of America docked in Naples.

Their remarks were conveyed at a special commemoration attended by more than 250 guests, held at the city's maritime station to mark the centenary of 'Abdu'l-Baha's presence in the port, on board the steamship Cedric.

In a letter read to the gathering, the Archbishop of Naples – Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe – expressed his hope that the celebrations "be occasions of spiritual enrichment and a renewed impetus for the building of a more just and unified society."

In another message of greeting, Monsignor Salvatore Giovanni Rinaldi – the Bishop of the Diocese of Acerra – said, "My personal wish and that of the Acerra Christian community is that the message of the founder of the Baha'i Faith, Baha'u'llah, Messenger of God, who promoted a process of the unification of humanity, may progress and fully establish itself in order to bring about one human family gathered under one God."

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'Abdu'l-Baha (1844-1921), photographed in Paris during His historic travels 1910-1913.

Professor Roberto Tottoli of the Naples University of Oriental Studies told the Baha'is of his "interest in your future initiatives, for my own personal interest but also for the interests of the Department that I represent, which cannot help but regard with admiration the activities of your religious community."

Special guests who were present and offered remarks included representatives from the Buddhist network Soka Gakkai International and the Waldensian Evangelical Church. All of them "expressed their joy in sharing with the Baha'i community such a solemn and meaningful moment," said Julio Savi, the Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Italy.

'Abdu'l-Baha (1844-1921) was the eldest son of Baha'u'llah and His appointed successor as head of the Baha'i Faith. Following the Young Turk Revolution of 1908, when all political and religious prisoners of the Ottoman Empire – including 'Abdu'l-Baha and His family – were freed, He began to plan presenting, in person, the Baha'i teachings to the world beyond the Middle East. From August to December 1911, He made visits to France, Switzerland and England before returning to Egypt for the winter.

Then, on 25 March 1912, 'Abdu'l-Baha boarded the Cedric – which regularly travelled between Alexandria and New York City, stopping in Naples. It had been suggested that 'Abdu'l-Baha might prefer to travel on the maiden voyage of the ill-fated S.S. Titanic but, He reportedly said, he preferred a longer sea journey. He arrived safely in New York City on 11 April.

At the centenary gathering, held in Naples 31 March to 1 April, Hartmut Grossmann, a former member of the Universal House of Justice, invited participants to reflect on a letter of the Universal House of Justice of 29 August 2010 which described how the "words uttered by 'Abdu'l-Baha during His travels, and the deeds He undertook with such consummate wisdom and love, offer an abundance of inspiration and manifold insights..."

Attendees also enjoyed musical presentations, the performance of a traditional Neapolitan tammurriata dance, and a visual history of Italy's Baha'i community which linked the activities of modern day Italian Baha'is with the pioneering efforts of their forebears.