Eleventh International Baha'i Convention: A global community reflects
HAIFA, Israel — More than 1,000 representatives of the Baha'i world community gathered here, 29 April-2 May, for a unique global event that was infused with joy, reverence and purpose.
The eleventh International Baha'i Convention marked the 50th anniversary of the inaugural Convention in 1963 at which the Universal House of Justice – the international governing council of the Baha'i Faith – was first elected.
A global election
The Convention saw the election of the nine members of the Universal House of Justice for the coming five year term. In a unique electoral process, all forms of campaigning, electioneering and nominations are strictly avoided. Rather, after prayerful reflection, the assembled delegates silently and privately wrote down the names of nine individuals who they felt would be best able to serve on the institution.
For more than three hours, the representatives then filed across the stage to deposit their votes in a simple wooden box. The following day, the result was announced, and the new membership of the Universal House of Justice received a warm and reverent welcome from the gathering. See http://news.bahai.org/story/951.
A learning community
Central to the proceedings were consultative sessions during which delegates from more than 150 countries – women and men representative of every background and walk of life – had the opportunity to share their thoughts, experiences and insights as part of a global learning process.
The main focus of deliberations was outlined in a letter from the Universal House of Justice, presented to the Convention. The message described the work before the Baha'i community as it strives to contribute to the spiritual and material advancement of civilization.
Many of the insights shared from diverse localities around the world – particularly concerning the efforts of young people to take responsibility for the spiritual education of those younger than themselves – had a universal resonance for delegates.
"I begin to identify with what people are talking about and I see the same challenges that we face and how people are managing to overcome it," said Nancy Oloro Robarts, a delegate from Uganda. "And I start to appreciate that the Baha'i world is one."
Ximena Osorio from Colombia noted a visible change in the picture that is emerging of today's worldwide Baha'i community.
"Sometimes you don't realize it because you are in your own country, considering your own challenges," she said. "But when you come here you can see that things are moving forward, we are changing and building a culture that is different."
"And all these different activities and elements that we are trying to apply at the very local level have an impact at the global level."
Tributes to the Baha'is of Iran
The proceedings included several vibrant musical presentations from various countries. In one, representatives from the Democratic Republic of Congo paid special tribute to the long-suffering Baha'i community of Iran.
"Though they are physically not present at this Convention, they are spiritually with us," one of the singers told the gathering.
The absence of the Baha'is of Iran – where the Baha'i community faces intense persecution and its administration has been dissolved – was noted by the placement of a bouquet of red roses at the front of the stage for the duration of the Convention.
Vision and confidence
As delegates returned to their respective countries, all took heart from the words of the Universal House of Justice which observed "the Baha'i community moving steadily forward, advancing in understanding, eager to acquire insights from experience, ready to take on new tasks..."
Vijitha Serasinghe, a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of Sri Lanka, said both his vision and confidence had been raised by his participation in the Convention.
"I see unity in diversity and the oneness of humanity in reality," said Mr. Serasinghe. "I have a strong feeling to go back and carry out our activities with a lot more confidence than before."