Thousands of Baha'is climb Mount Carmel as new terraces are inaugurated
HAIFA, Israel — Thousands of Baha'is from every race, nation and religious background today streamed up the face of Mount Carmel in a prayerful ascent toward the Shrine of the Bab, the second-most holy place in the Baha'i world.
The climb, made up a stately stone stairway that runs through the heart of a series of recently completed garden terraces, was an act of deep spiritual significance to the participants here.
Coming this week from some 180 nations to celebrate the inauguration of the terraces, which extend nearly a kilometer up the mountainside, those who made the climb said they were moved and uplifted by the experience. They will count it as one of the most meaningful of their lives.
"It was really soul-stirring," said Samuel Benjamin Obura, a 65-year-old sugarcane farmer from Kenya. "First of all, there was the beauty of the gardens and the Shrine. It gave one to think of many things.
"I thought of the suffering of the Bab," Mr. Obura continued. "He was put in prison and He was mocked and He was martyred and everyone thought that was the end.
"But now we see the glory that surrounds His Shrine and the adoration people feel when they visit it," he added.
The event today was part of a week-long program to celebrate the completion of a $250 million complex of buildings, gardens and terraces at the Baha'i World Centre. The terraces were built over the last 10 years with voluntary donations from the five million member worldwide Baha'i community. Baha'is view completion of the project as marking a major stage in the emergence of the Baha'i Faith on the world scene.
"The significance of this event is that it represents a kind of culmination of the development of the Baha'i World Centre on this mountain," said Penny Walker, a member of the International Teaching Centre here, a key Baha'i institution that focuses on advising national Baha'i communities on their growth and development.
"At the same time, we see that the Baha'i Faith is established in every country and territory of the world, bringing together an incredible cross-section of the human race, who are all committed to bringing people everywhere into one human family," said Dr. Walker.
The diversity of the worldwide Baha'i community was evident today as delegates made their way up Mount Carmel in a spirit of devotion. Many wore traditional native costumes and the procession was a showcase of the human garden, resplendent in all its races and colors.
The climb led Galina Iefremova, a 23-year-old teacher from Belarus, to think about the human race at large and its desire for peace.
"The idea that more than 3,000 people can come together to do this, it is an example that can show the way the world can be, without any problems or prejudice," said Ms. Iefremova, who became a Baha'i in 1993. "All over the world, people are waiting for this."
Maria Pancham, a 41-year-old airline personnel officer from Suriname, thought of how she will rededicate her life to seeing the positive side of life in all things, and to serving humanity when she returns home.
"How to you put it in words?" she said when asked about her experience. "It is a feeling of peace and relief and joy. It makes you want to serve humanity.
"I can't say I'm transformed, because right now I feel I am in a different world," she added. "So all I can do is pray that I will be able to take these feelings back home and not fall into the routine."
Leslie Serrano, a 20-year-old student from Mexico, said she also thought about the need to serve humanity and to make sacrifices in life to do so.
"I felt climbing those stairs was a reflection of what life represents when you begin at the bottom and you gradually have to take steps upward," Ms. Serrano said. "Sometimes it is hard and it takes sacrifice to get you where you are going."
Her dominant thought, however, was about the Biblical prophesy of Isaiah.
"I thought of where it says, 'And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it,' " she said, reciting the passage from memory.
"And when I saw all those people from all these nations, climbing up Mount Carmel, I felt that was the fulfillment of that prophesy," said Ms. Serrano. "It is a privilege without words to be part of that."