Focusing on the future, Baha'is head home after a week of celebration and reflection on Mount Carmel
HAIFA, Israel — Inspired and invigorated after a week celebrating the completion of essential elements of their world center, Baha'is gathered here from some 180 countries prepared today to head out to the four corners of the globe.
They go with their gaze set firmly towards the future.
"Everything has been really wonderful, a source of encouragement and inspiration," said Mandu Assam, a 25-year-old business school graduate from Nigeria, about the program that inaugurated a kilometer-long series of 19 garden terraces and two new administrative buildings on Mount Carmel.
"It has been a driving force to move ahead," Ms. Assam added, saying she will now throw herself ever more eagerly into her Baha'i work at home, which has involved leading moral and spiritual education classes for children and involvement in campaigns to spread the Baha'i teachings.
Ms. Assam's feelings were echoed by others, especially by the younger generation gathered here, who were the focus of a message from the Universal House of Justice on Thursday night.
Delivered to 3,000 participants, the message from the Baha'i Faith's international governing council noted that the great majority of humanity remains engulfed in heartbreaking "suffering and deprivation."
"Humanity's crying need will not be met by a struggle among competing ambitions or by protest against one or another of the countless wrongs afflicting a desperate age," said the message. "It calls, rather, for a fundamental change of consciousness, for a wholehearted embrace of Baha'u'llah's teaching that the time has come when each human being on earth must learn to accept responsibility for the welfare of the entire human family.
"Commitment to this revolutionizing principle will increasingly empower individual believers and Baha'i institutions alike in awakening others to the Day of God and to the latent spiritual and moral capacities that can change this world into another world," the statement said. "We demonstrate this commitment by our rectitude of conduct towards others, by the discipline of our own natures, and by our complete freedom from the prejudices that cripple collective action in the society around us and frustrate positive impulses towards change."
The Universal House of Justice said these standards hold "particular implications" for youth, inasmuch as they are blessed with "the enviable advantages of high energy, flexibility of mind and, to a great extent, freedom of movement."
"Their challenge is to understand the real condition of humanity and to forge among themselves enduring spiritual bonds that free them not only from racial and national divisions but also from those created by social and material conditions, and that will fit them to carry forward the great trust reposed in them," said the statement.
Many youth were among the 3,000 participants. All delegates gathered Friday morning along a semi-circular path in the gardens that link two recently completed administrative buildings and the majestic Seat of the Universal House of Justice. And young participants said the message -- and the entire week of activities -- had indeed taken them to a deeper level of faith and commitment.
"There is a great responsibility on our shoulders to change this generation," said Jude Dogley, 23, of the Seychelles. "Going back, I will try to live the Baha'i life and to set a good example and to explain to others how the Baha'i principles can solve the problems of our age."
He said the gathering together of Baha'is from virtually every race and nationality had proved to him that peace and unity among all humanity is possible.
"There are a lot of divisions in the world out there," said Mr. Dogley, who has been a Baha'i since 1996. "But we can show people that even if you are from different backgrounds and different cultures, you can still live like brothers and sisters."
Virginie Montiel, a 25-year-old medical student from Belgium, said the week's activities had also proved to her that it was indeed possible for everyone to treat each other -- and to be treated by each other -- equally.
"In the Baha'i Faith we always say that we are one," she said, describing how encounters with so many people from so many different cultures had changed her. "We saw this in practice here, with all these different people from different backgrounds working for the same thing. We saw that it is possible for everyone to be equal."
The gathering today outside the two new buildings, the International Teaching Centre and the Centre for the Study of the Texts, marked another historic moment for Baha'is here and around the world inasmuch as it celebrated the completion of the administrative headquarters of the Baha'i World Centre.
Along with the two other buildings set high on Mount Carmel, the Seat of the Universal House of Justice and the International Archives Building, these edifices house essential institutions and artifacts -- and their completion is for Baha'is the realization of a century-long dream to create a spiritual and administrative center that will fully and fittingly represent the Faith's position as an independent world religion, now the second-most widespread geographically after Christianity.
The Center for the Study of the Texts houses scholars and researchers whose role is to study the vast body of the Baha'i sacred writings, translate them, prepare compilations, and draft commentaries on their relationship to current world problems.
The International Teaching Center building houses a body of appointed individuals who assist the Universal House of Justice and provide guidance and encouragement to the worldwide Baha'i community on its growth and development.
Altogether, the terraces -- which were inaugurated with a world premiere concert on Tuesday, 22 May, before 4,000 people in Haifa and a worldwide audience by satellite and webcast -- and the two new buildings cost some US$250 million to complete. The money was raised entirely from within the worldwide Baha'i community through voluntary donations.
The architect who designed the new buildings, Hossein Amanat, along with the architect who designed the garden terraces, Fariborz Sahba, were given warm appreciation in an evening program Wednesday, 23 May, the highlight of which was the showing of a new 38-minute video documentary on the roughly 15-year-long construction process for the new structures.
Titled "Not even a lamp," the documentary detailed the immense challenges faced in working on the slope of Mount Carmel. The architects had to work carefully so as not to disturb neighbors, the surrounding gardens and buildings, or the precious golden-domed Shrine of the Bab.
"This was not an ordinary project," Mr. Amanat told the gathering. "This was a kind of sacred task for us. We really looked on it as a prayer."
Mr. Amanat said the buildings were designed to last for 500 years: "Every detail, when implemented, was done with a great amount of research as to what kinds of materials we should use, what technology we should use, so that these buildings will last as long as possible."
Throughout the week, music was a crucial element in the celebration. Tuesday evening saw the world premiere of two orchestral works written especially for the occasion of the inauguration of the terraces on Mount Carmel.
On Wednesday and Thursday, a wide range of Baha'i artists from around the world took to the stage to inspire and uplift. Among those performing were the Congo Youth Choir from the Democratic Republic of the Congo; The Tabarsi Group, a group of Roma musicians from Spain; Vivek Nair, a singer from India; Kevin Locke, a Lakota flutist from the United States; and Atef Sedkouai, a Tunisian vocalist from Paris.
Collectively, these performances showcased a tremendous depth of talent and creative expression, giving new meaning to the term of "world music."
"We wanted the performers to represent a wide diversity," said Alex Frame, who produced the week's program. "And we brought together people who didn't know each other, and people who in some cases didn't even speak the same language.
"Yet within minutes of coming together, even in their dressing rooms, they started jamming together," said Mr. Frame. "It was natural and spontaneous and, without impediment, they began to create new kinds of music."
On Thursday evening, the program used a dramatic narrative to explore the growth and development of the Faith over the last century, exploring how events and trends in the world at large converged or coincided with the evolution of the Baha'i community.
Drawing on "Century of Light," a new book published by the Baha'i World Centre, the narrative chronicled such events as the visit of Abdu'l-Baha to America, the crusade to spread the Faith around the world in the 1950s, and the persecution of the Baha'is in Iran in the 1980s. The drama brought to life with colorful characterizations how people's lives have been transformed by the Faith.
"Our idea was to juxtapose news events happening in the world at large with dramatic episodes from the Faith's history, and how the Faith offers hope to the world," said Ann Boyles of Canada, author of the drama. "For example, in the opening section, we talked about the atrocities committed in the Congo at the turn of the century under King Leopold, when more than a million Congolese were killed, starved or worked to death.
"On the other hand," she added, "we had here this week this vibrant youth choir coming from the Congo, with great hope and optimism about the future."