Handing on the light of faith
PORT LOUIS, Mauritius — Three generations demonstrated the growth of the Baha'i community in a moving presentation at the festivities marking the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Baha'i Faith here.
In the packed auditorium, representatives of the first generation of Baha'is appeared on the stage and lit candles held by some of the second generation of the Mauritian believers. Those Baha'is in turn passed on the light to the third generation.
During the ceremony, two groups, Citoyens du Monde (Citizens of the World) and Melody Channel, sang songs of spiritual upliftment, their performances conducted by Subrata Sharma, the musical director of the Baha'i House of Worship in New Delhi.
Many of those in the 500-strong audience were overcome with emotion at the depiction of the history of a community that grew from a solitary figure in 1953 to a vibrant community today.
Five members of the first generation of Baha'is in the country spoke to the audience about events of the first years with all their difficulties and triumphs.
A group of youth presented an Indian dance and then depicted in a short dramatic sketch the introduction of the Faith to Mauritius and the events that lead up to the current focus on children's classes, devotional meetings and capacity-building study circles.
Applause filled the auditorium after the children performed a moving presentation reminding the audience of the presence of God in our lives. The Diversity Dance Workshop also received acclamation.
Speakers included Eddy Lutchmaya, a member of the Continental Board of Counsellors for Africa, Baha'i author Lowell Johnson, and longstanding Baha'is Sir Harry Tirvengadum, Paul Fabien, Retnon Muree, and Somoo Valayden.
The history of the community was also one of the themes of the opening ceremony for the festivities, which ran from 12 to 14 December 2003.
National Spiritual Assembly member Balram Appadoo introduced to the audience of some 700 Baha'is and their guests the chief guest speaker, Dr. Graham Walker of the United Kingdom.
Dr. Walker said that only three years after the 1953 arrival of Ottilie Rhein, the first Baha'i in Mauritius, there were more than 100 members of the Faith, and three Local Spiritual Assemblies were formed by 1956. There are now 100 Assemblies.
"In 1970, with astonishing energy and few resources, the Baha'is organized an Oceanic Conference at the Queen Elizabeth College in Mauritius," he said. "This was attended by the Prime Minister at that time, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam and 1000 (participants) from 30 different countries."
Dr. Walker said the Mauritian Baha'is helped the Faith develop in Reunion, Madagascar, and Seychelles, where National Spiritual Assemblies were formed in 1972.
Outlining some of the Baha'i contributions to Mauritius, Dr. Walker said the Baha'is regularly distribute documents to about 500 organizations and individuals, generating a productive dialogue and elevating moral awareness.
"In January 2001, the Baha'is organized an interfaith council to identify the common values of all religions, and to encourage inter-religious and trans-cultural debate," he said.
Dr. Walker praised Mauritius for its many freedoms, offered the assistance of the Baha'i community to the social and economic development of the country, and called on the government to resume its support for the United Nations resolutions against the persecution of Baha'is in Iran.
In his address, the guest of honor, the vice-president of the Republic of Mauritius, Raouf Bundhun, offered the Baha'i community his best wishes for "success and great achievements in the future."
"The Baha'i community has all the time been working assiduously, discreetly, and with a seriousness of purpose, and promoting the development of its members and the welfare of the people at large," Mr. Bundhun said.
"Inspired by the message of Baha'u'llah, they have been constantly promoting the key theme of unity and justice," he said.
On that same occasion, a large screen carried a message from the Universal House Justice that said in part that the Baha'i community of Mauritius had "been blessed with a body of devoted believers whose consecrated efforts have, over the years, firmly accomplished the sustained growth of the Cause of God in Mauritius."
Other events held during the jubilee celebrations included a public address by Dr. Walker on "Science and Morality," an occasion opened by Dr. Chunnoo, president of the Medical Council of Mauritius.
The Minister of Arts and Culture, Motee Ramdass spoke highly of the Baha'i community when he opened an exhibition at the Baha'i Institute in Belle Rose on the history of the Baha'i Faith in Mauritius.
During the half-century of the Faith in Mauritius there have many individuals of great capacity who arose to develop the Baha'i community in the country.
Among those was Miss Rhein, who was named by Shoghi Effendi as a Knight of Baha'u'llah for her service in being the first person to bring the Faith to Mauritius.
Miss Rhein (1903-79), who had arrived in the United States from Germany as a young girl, set out during a global Ten Year Plan to take the teachings of the Baha'i Faith around the world.
She arrived in Mauritius on 11 November 1953, and on her first expedition to provide necessities for living there met the proprietor of a shop, Mr. Yim Lim, who became the first resident of the country to join the Faith.
Another prominent Baha'i was Seewoosumbur Appa (1912-1981). Mr. Appa became a Baha'i in 1956 and diligently served the Faith until the last day of his life. He was a member of Local and National Spiritual Assemblies and served as a member of the Continental Board of Counsellors.
Conscientious, hardworking and orderly, he had a gentle, pure-hearted personality that led him to become known affectionately throughout Mauritius and the African countries he visited as "Papa Appa." A schoolteacher by profession, he was also an outstanding teacher of the Baha'i Faith.
Another dynamic Mauritian Baha'i was Roddy Lutchmaya (1932-1999), a joyous and enthusiastic personality, who held the high-ranking post of Commissioner of Prisons in Mauritius. He served on Local and National Spiritual Assemblies and was also a member of the Continental Board of Counsellors.