Centenary of 'Abdu'l-Baha's journeys marked in North America

June 26, 2012
Visitors gather at the Baha'i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois, for a special commemorative program held on 29 April 2012, marking the centenary of 'Abdu'l Baha's laying of the building's cornerstone. Three services included prayers read by children in several languages, selections of sacred writings sung by the Temple's choir, and the rare opportunity for visitors to hear a recording of 'Abdu'l-Baha's own voice.

WILMETTE, IL., United States — Thousands of Baha'is and their friends across the United States have been observing the centenary of 'Abdu'l-Baha's eight-month sojourn in their country.

Following the Young Turk Revolution of 1908, 'Abdu'l-Baha – the eldest son of Baha'u'llah and His appointed successor as head of the Baha'i Faith – was freed after more than half a century of exile and imprisonment. Immediately, He began to plan how to present, in person, the Baha'i teachings to the world beyond the Middle East.

From 11 April to 5 December 1912, 'Abdu'l-Baha traversed the north American continent, continuing an extraordinary journey that had already taken him to Egypt, England, France, and Switzerland.

Baha'is throughout the United States are commemorating this journey by reflecting upon the life of 'Abdu'l-Baha and discussing how His example can inspire their services to the community today. In addition, a number of larger-scale commemorative activities have been initiated by the U.S. National Spiritual Assembly – in Chicago, New York City, Washington D.C. and at the Baha'i House of Worship in Wilmette.

On 29 April, the House of Worship hosted three special services, designed to provide a unique opportunity for people to remember 'Abdu'l-Baha 100 years after He broke the ground and laid the cornerstone upon which the House of Worship was built.

Illinois Congressman Robert Dold addressed the audience at the Chicago Theatre on 28 April 2012, acknowledging Baha'i efforts to build a more unified society. Slideshow
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Illinois Congressman Robert Dold addressed the audience at the Chicago Theatre on 28 April 2012, acknowledging Baha'i efforts to build a more unified society.

Among the speakers at an event held at the historic Chicago Theatre that same weekend was U.S. Congressman, Representative Robert Dold, who grew up close to the House of Worship. He called the building a "beacon," describing its "beautiful grounds, its gorgeous structure" and its significance as "a peaceful place of worship, a place that is open to one and all."

Mr. Dold explained how, during 'Abdu'l-Baha's travels, He "met with people of diverse backgrounds in both private and public settings, often giving talks to hundreds of people. And everywhere He went, He spoke about the oneness of humanity..."

"Baha'is in this area have been working with people of all faiths and backgrounds to promote cooperation and unity and have been striving to build a better world," said Mr. Dold. "I'm so very proud to represent the Baha'is of the 10th Congressional District and also to have the House of Worship in Wilmette be part of our community."

A demonstration of race unity

Among the themes addressed 100 years ago by 'Abdu'l-Baha in the United States was racial harmony. This was illustrated at the Chicago commemoration by the "Unity in Music" children's theater company from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who presented a dramatic recreation of 'Abdu'l-Baha's visit to the Bowery neighborhood in Manhattan where He paid particular attention to an African-American boy.

The experience, said the company's director Kathy Wurzer, was very meaningful for the children who performed – the majority of whom are not Baha'is.

Seeing them react to stories of what 'Abdu'l-Baha did to bring the races together was "quite touching," she said. "We have children from a wide variety of backgrounds who are participating. When they saw the amount of people that came to something like this, they began to realize the significance of 'Abdu'l-Baha's visit to the U.S."

'Abdu'l-Baha's call for America's separate races to come together as one family was also explored in Washington D.C on 12 May. During a performance of one of her poems titled, "The Difference," award-winning teacher Dona Denize declared: "There is but one color, and that is the color of servitude."

Throughout 'Abdu'l-Baha's travels – said Valerie Dana, a member of the U.S. National Spiritual Assembly – He "talked about spiritual transformation, being of service to humanity, seeing the face of God in all, and understanding that the work we do in service to humanity brings us closer to God."

"So a fitting remembrance," she said, "would be undertaking a pattern of action that reflects the purpose for which He came."

A further centenary event is scheduled for San Francisco on 9 September.