Kiribati President attends annual Baha’i convention

May 31, 2019
South Tarawa from the air (Credit: Government of Kiribati)

SOUTH TARAWA, Kiribati — At the closing session of the Baha’i community’s national convention, held in a traditional island meeting house, this country’s president greeted the convention’s attendees.

“Allah’u’Abha,” President Taneti Maamau said to the convention’s more than 200 attendees on 28 April. President Maamau said he was pleased with the presentations by the youth and children and offered a gift, a custom in Kiribati culture when attending a traditional community gathering.

The President’s attendance reflects an effort in Kiribati and many other Baha’i communities to converse with their governments about their common aim of the betterment of their society.

In Kiribati, a country of 33 far-flung islands and atolls, the Baha’i community has long invited the president to the national convention, an annual gathering held to elect the country’s National Spiritual Assembly and consult on issues of importance to the country.

President Maamau attended for the first time in 2016. Last year, the vice president and about 30 other guests, including other government officials and traditional leaders, attended. The president, who often visits gatherings of the country’s religious communities, also attended the country’s celebration of the bicentenary of the birth of Baha’u’llah in October 2017 and wrote a message of congratulations to the Universal House of Justice. These interactions reflect a deep connection, based on a profound desire to work for the betterment of Kiribati, between the country’s Baha’i community and its government and other societal institutions, explained Angus Morrison, the Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly.

The endeavors of Baha’is on the island of South Tarawa were also featured in A Widening Embrace, a film released last year by the Universal House of Justice. The film shows how the Baha’i community works alongside government and schools to provide a Baha’i-inspired educational program in schools.

In other countries, Baha’is are in conversations with their governments as well. Most recently, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wrote the country’s Baha’is on 7 May to encourage their longstanding efforts to promote race unity through organizing an annual dialogue among young people.

In Rwanda, in addition, Justice Minister Johnston Busingye wrote on 10 April to the Baha’i community saying he commends its “commitment towards establishment of peace, unity and prosperity for the People of Rwanda, especially through cultivating conditions that are most conducive to the emergence of unity in any setting….” This was written in response to a letter sent by the country’s National Spiritual Assembly to national authorities expressing the Baha’i community’s sympathy on the 25th anniversary of the genocide against the Tutsi people.

And, earlier this year in Italy, the Baha’i community decided to write to its country’s president after he called for unity and coexistence in a widely-viewed speech on New Year’s Eve. Its letter expressed appreciation for the president’s earnest call and highlighted some concepts underlying the efforts of the Italian Baha’is working for their society’s betterment. The country’s president replied, expressing gratitude for the community’s comments.