Jamaicans celebrate 4th National Baha'i Day
KINGSTON, Jamaica — When the Governor General of Jamaica, Sir Howard Cooke, proclaimed a National Baha'i Day for this tropical Caribbean island nation three years ago, Baha'is here had no idea it would become an annual event.
Established in 2003 as part of the 60th anniversary celebration of the establishment of the Faith in Jamaica, Baha'is discovered in 2004 that once a proclamation has been made, it becomes a permanent feature of the island.
"Thus, we began to have observations for 'Baha'i Day' on July 25 each year," said Linda Roche, secretary of the Baha'i community of Jamaica.
The event has become a celebration not only for the 21 local Baha'i communities on the island, but they have been joined by other religious leaders and Jamaican politicians.
This year the Baha'i Day events included a Baha'i Day Breakfast sponsored by the National Spiritual Assembly. It was attended by representatives of the various religions from the Interfaith Council, including Moslems, Christians, Buddhists and Hindus, as well as the mayor of Kingston and representatives of the news media.
Celebrations were also held in the Kingston, Montego Bay and Port Antonio communities. Port Antonio held a 4 day exhibition at the public library on the history of the Faith in Jamaica.
The highlight of the national observance was the speech by the mayor, Desmond McKenzie, who praised the Baha'i community of Jamaica for its message of spirituality and unity at a time when many are losing faith in politics and traditional religions.
"We have always depended on the traditional churches to create the foundation for moral respect and social tolerance," said Mr. McKenzie.
"However, we are concerned that the traditional churches seem to have lost their voices lately when it comes to the issue of morality," said Mr. McKenzie, who is not a Baha'i. "And since the politicians are not considered to have the moral authority, it is the newer churches and religions like the Baha'is, and their refreshingly new view of morality, to which we must turn.
"Baha'u'llah's divine mission was to bring about spiritual rebirth and the unity of mankind leading to a permanent world peace and the establishment of God's Kingdom on earth," said Mr. McKenzie. "The city of Kingston welcomes the Baha'is with open arms because we share your zest for unity and peace."
Baha'i communities throughout Jamaica sponsor a wide range of activities, including children's classes, study circles and devotional meetings.
The Baha'i Faith was introduced in Jamaica in the 1930s. In 1942, Dr. Malcolm King, a Jamaican Baha'i who had been residing in the United States, returned to Jamaica and taught the Faith to Marion Lord Maxwell, the first Jamaican to become a Baha'i in Jamaica.
By April 1943, the Baha'i community in Kingston had grown to a sufficient size to elect the first Local Spiritual Assembly on the island. This marked the establishment of the Baha'i Faith in Jamaica.
"For the past 60 years the Baha'is have applied their Faith to many of our social problems, including social prejudices, economic deprivation and physical disadvantages, and, in so doing, they have contributed immensely to reducing tensions in these areas," said Mr. McKenzie at the interfaith breakfast.
Ms. Roche said that the Baha'is have sought to address social problems mainly by stressing the importance of tolerance and harmony.
"In terms of promoting social tolerance, probably our most significant activity is being among the founding members of the Interfaith Council in 1992," said Ms. Roche. "It has held activities over the years, recently met with the new Governor General, and has been called upon by the new Prime Minister to help organize a National Interfaith Prayer Service.
"This is a fundamental change because although Jamaica is overall a highly tolerant society, very little attention has historically been paid to religions outside of Christianity," said Ms. Roche, "And involving other religions in the organization of national religious events is a positive step forward."
For the past few months the Baha'i Centre has been the home of Sir Howard Cooke's Thursday Group, a group of civic minded persons from different religions who are exploring the possibilities of engaging in remedial work in an inner city community.
"I strongly believe in the ability of religion to heal wounds and create the basis for moral upliftment and national unity," said Mr. McKenzie.
"My administration looks forward to cooperating with you in your efforts to sow the seeds of unity and peace across the city and we wish you every success and blessing as you celebrate another milestone and march on to another landmark," said Mr. McKenzie.