Day 3: Looking to the future
SANTIAGO, Chile — As the sun rose behind the Andes, more than 250 people representing various indigenous populations of South America entered the newly-dedicated continental Baha'i Temple. The melodies of the choir permeated that sacred space, as Baha'i scriptures in Spanish and the Mapuche language, resounded through the Temple's auditorium, touching the hearts of those present.
This moving scene ushered in the final day of the special inauguration ceremonies that have unfolded since Thursday.
Speaking after the dawn visit, Paicavi Painemal Morales, an indigenous Baha'i from Temuko in Chile explained that "As Mapuches, we pray in many different places—we are very connected to the land and to nature.
"When we pray," he continued, "we pray directly to God and so for this reason the Temple is very special for us—and it is for this reason that many Mapuche are Baha'is."
Jesus Angel Gudino was among the first of Argentina's Guarani people to accept the Baha'i teachings in the early 1970s. "I am very happy to be here," said Mr. Gudino, "because this event shows the unity of everything—the cultures, the people: all is put into practice."
"It was impossible for me to imagine such a great number of people," he said. "We were so small when I first became a Baha'i."
A member of the Wayuu from the north of Colombia, Carlos Javier Epiayu Herrera, was determined to tell his family and friends back home everything that he had been experiencing over the past several days.
"All the knowledge that we acquire here we will apply in our country and we will share it."
This special dawn visit to the Temple on the final day reflected the significance given to the indigenous peoples' contribution to the advancement of civilization—a theme that was present throughout the conference and highlighted on day 3.
A presentation by Baha'is from the northern region of Brazil drew attention to the love expressed in the Baha'i writings for indigenous populations. Baha'i sacred scriptures place particular emphasis on their capacity to illumine the world.
"Their awakening is a decisive moment in the life of the Faith and the life of these peoples," said the Brazilian delegation.
As in the day before, groups of up to 500 people from among the nearly five thousand conference participants continued to make their first visits to the House of Worship.
Further reflections on service
Inspired by the vision of the Temple as an institution that weds together worship of God and service to humanity, representatives of national Baha'i communities from around the continent and further afield continued to share their experiences with social action.
In particular, a number of presentations were made about transformative educational processes initiated by Baha'i communities or Baha'i-inspired organizations. From small grassroots projects to larger, well-established institutions, examples were presented from such countries as Brazil, Suriname, Panama, and Bolivia.
A delegation from northern Brazil described how a program for 11-14 year olds was offered to a school in response to lack of spiritual values in the national school curriculum. A video showed the director of the school expressing gratitude for this program, which reaches around half of the pupils. "We are building a new history here," she said.
Gustavo Ortega from the Nur University in Bolivia, which is also working to apply Baha'i principles to both its academic curriculum and administrative structures, told the conference, "We started a process that has changed education in our country." The University has become recognized for its commitment to fairness, gender equality, and the generation and application of knowledge.
Individuals also shared the benefit of learning from other communities around the continent and applying what they discovered to their own activities.
Preparing for the future
The final session of the conference lifted and directed the vision of participants toward the months and years ahead.
In a keynote address, a former member of the Universal House of Justice, Dr. Farzam Arbab emphasized the great role that indigenous populations have in the “process of the spiritualization of the peoples and the nations".
Dr. Arbab asked those present to look toward the future: "What will be the fruits that our efforts produce under the influence of the spiritual forces that now emanate from this House of Worship?"
Calling on those present to carry back with them to their countries the spirit of the conference, representative of the Universal House of Justice, Antonella Demonte, in the closing moments, drew the attention of the conference to the power of unity and love that had permeated the gathering of nearly five thousand people—what she described as "collective spirit".
"How much more powerful is collective action!" she proclaimed.
(Editor's note: Additional photographs were added to the story on 18 October 2016.)