Fifty years on, European Baha'i communities recall landmark elections

May 7, 2012

OSLO, Norway — Tributes have been paid to the Baha'i Faith on the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Norwegian National Spiritual Assembly.

In Oslo, some 100 special guests participated in a celebratory gathering. Among them, Shazia Mushtaq – a representative of Norway's Islamic Council – praised the "many beautiful elements" in the commemorative event, which included spoken tributes and musical performances.

Ivar Flaten, a Church of Norway priest, remarked that he found in the Baha'i teachings, "a special emphasis, not only on tolerance but also on acknowledging each other." His comments were echoed by Lise Tørnby, Chief Executive of Norway's Council for Religious and Life Stance Communities, who said that one thing that characterizes Baha'is is their "willingness for dialog."

In his keynote address, Thor Henning Lerstad – a journalist and Baha'i – described the call to all human beings to acknowledge the unity of religion as "perhaps the most notable challenge the Baha'i Faith poses, from a Nordic perspective..."

"Tolerance is not enough; it is also necessary to recognize other peoples' beliefs," he said.

2 images
At the national convention of the Baha'is of Italy, Mario Piarulli – a surviving member of the country's first National Spiritual Assembly, elected in 1962 – recounts his memories of the community's early history.

Today Baha'i activities in Norway include the hosting of gatherings that strengthen the devotional character of the community; classes for children; groups that channel the energies of young people; and study circles where participants explore the application of spiritual teachings to their lives and develop skills to serve the community.

"We live in a time where less attention is given to the nurturing of human beings' spiritual nature," noted Shahla Bahrami, another Norwegian Baha'i. The activities offered by the Baha'i community help to refine this nature, she told the gathering held on Friday 27 April.

This year also marks the 50th anniversaries of the formation of National Spiritual Assemblies in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. In a number of them, a period of commemoration was allocated at the national Baha'i conventions which happen each year during the period of the Ridvan festival, 21 April to 2 May.

To the Baha'is of Switzerland, the Regent for Liechtenstein – His Serene Highness Hereditary Prince Alois – wrote, "Upon learning that the National Spiritual Assembly of Switzerland, which is currently responsible for the Baha'i community of Liechtenstein, will celebrate its 50 years in existence, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the community on this anniversary and express my best wishes and God's blessings for the future."

The Swiss National Assembly in turn sent anniversary greetings to the neighboring Baha'i community of Italy. The Italian national convention heard Mario Piarulli, a surviving member of its first National Spiritual Assembly, recounting his memories of the community's early history.

Mr. Piarulli's expressed his sincere wish that "the young people present today may – in 50 years, on the occasion of the centenary commemoration – look at these, our years, as crucial in accelerating the maturation of a world spiritual civilization..."

In the Netherlands, former and current National Spiritual Assembly members marked their 50th anniversary with the reading of the names of each of the 51 Baha'is who have served on the institution during those years.

The anniversary of the National Spiritual Assembly of Portugal was celebrated at the national convention held for the first time in a new national Baha'i center. "The physical space that hosted the Convention was thus a material symbol of the growth and progress of the Faith over the previous half century," reported Portugal's National Spiritual Assembly.

Baha'is in Luxembourg observed the golden jubilee of their National Spiritual Assembly with a tribute to the first Baha'i to settle in the country, British-born Honor Kempton. "The convention was invigorated by the sacrifices made by the Baha'is of previous decades," said Assembly member Amir Saberin, "and focused on how the foundation built in the last half-century may become the platform for even greater accomplishments in the next."