High excitement and lofty expectations for Baha'is heading to Israel for terraces inauguration ceremony

May 15, 2001

HAIFA, Israel — When Henrietta Josias arrives here at the end of the week, it will be her first time in Israel -- and only the second time in her life to travel outside of her native South Africa.

Like an estimated 3,000 other Baha'is who will be coming for the inauguration of a majestic series of garden terraces on Mount Carmel here on 22 May, Ms. Josias comes with high excitement and lofty expectations for what she believes will be one of the highlights of her life.

"To me, it is a phenomenal thing that is happening to me," said the 45-year-old mother and flea market sales lady from Cape Town. "Prior to becoming a Baha'i, I would never have had any idea about traveling to Israel, or anywhere else for that matter, coming from a very disadvantaged community in South Africa.

"But being a Baha'i opens your vision to the world around you," said Ms. Josias, who became a Baha'i nine years ago. "I feel I'm part of this great process where people are trying to become citizens of this whole wide world and so that we see one another as brothers and sisters."

That sentiment -- to help foster the processes of world peace and human unity -- indeed underlies the construction of the kilometer-long terraces on Mount Carmel, which is sacred not only to Baha'is but also to Christians, Jews and Muslims. Built over 10 years at a cost of some US$250 million, the terraces and two new adjacent administrative buildings are designed in part to offer to humanity at large a vision of peace and harmony.

Dedication ceremonies will begin at dusk on 22 May 2001 with an open-air world premiere concert, which will be available live worldwide by satellite and Internet webcast. On 23 May, indigenous musicians will perform and the thousands of celebrants, many in colorful national dress, will ascend the terraces for the first time.

The diversity of the gathering will itself reflect the ideals of the Baha'i Faith, which aims to enlist people everywhere, from all races, religions and nationalities, in a common endeavor to build a just, peaceful and ever-advancing civilization. There are about five million Baha'is and the Faith is the second-most widespread independent religion after Christianity, with communities in more than 200 countries and territories.

"It will be like a 'preview' of how the world will become in the future, showing a cross-section of humankind coming together in unity," said Nogol Rahbin, a 20-year-old medical student, who will be among the delegation from Sweden. "To me, this will be a chance to experience the vision that the founder of the Baha'i Faith, Baha'u'llah, gave to humanity about 150 years ago."

Baha'i communities from more than 170 countries are planning to send delegations. And the list of delegates likewise spans the gamut of professions, social and economic class, and racial and religious backgrounds.

Attendees range from a New York investment banker to a young woman from the Fulnio people in northeastern Brazil; from a Nepalese journalist to an architectural student from Belarus.

"To me, this event will show how a great many people, from all different locations and backgrounds, can come together in unity, to help create something as close to perfection as I can think of," said Alexandar Sawka, a 17-year-old student from St. Johns, Antigua, West Indies. "The completion of a project of this magnitude is a great step forward for any religion."

The delegates were chosen by various means to represent their countries at the inauguration ceremonies by their National Spiritual Assemblies, the nation-level governing bodies in the Baha'i Faith. Limited to 19 delegates each, National Spiritual Assemblies around the world used different methods to choose their delegations. Some Assemblies gave weight to individuals who had given exemplary service over the years while others simply held a lottery.

Sara Nobre, like other members of the delegation from Portugal, was chosen by lot. The 24-year-old staffing manager from Lisbon feels incredibly lucky.

"The event is the end result of many years of hard work from Baha'is everywhere," said Ms. Nobre, who, like millions of other Baha'is, contributed funds to the project, which was built entirely with donations from Baha'is around the world. "It is the fruit of perseverance and love."

Jean Scales, one of the delegates from the United States of America, feels honored to have been selected. "I couldn't believe it at first," said Jean Scales, a 71-year-old retired English professor who now lives in Durham, North Carolina. "I have no idea why I've been chosen. I guess it is because I've been active over the years."

Dr. Scales has served the Faith on a number of levels since becoming a Baha'i in 1960. Last year, for example, she toured South Africa and Swaziland with her husband, Jay, to promote the Faith's ideals.

Like others selected to travel to Haifa, she views the inauguration of the terraces as a once-in-a-lifetime event, one that she believes will likewise showcase the Faith's message and teachings.

"The construction of these gardens is a reason for humanity to have hope," said Dr. Scales. "So many people just don't see any hope in the world today, between wars and rumors of wars. But this shows that humankind can come together."

Dr. Scales believes that the beauty of the gardens -- she has seen numerous photographs of them -- reflects the harmonious blend of spiritual and material attributes that Baha'is believe is needed in the world.

"Around the world, Baha'is are asked to engage in social and economic development projects to do things that will help their communities," she said. "They don't just pray. Rather, they seek to combine the material and the spiritual."

Dr. Scales and others also believe that the completion of the Baha'i projects on Mount Carmel, which include the construction of two new administrative buildings, also represent a significant fulfillment of prophecy, both for Baha'is and others.

"I do know that Mount Carmel is important in Christian and Jewish history, and that the Holy Land itself is important to many of the religions in the world," she said. "In the main Christian prayer, they speak of 'Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.' To me, this is a fulfillment of that prayer in that we Baha'is believe we are helping to build the Kingdom of God on earth."