BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE, Haifa, Israel — Some 1,300 delegates representing more than 160 countries have arrived in Haifa to participate in the 12th International Baha’i Convention.
The International Convention is a unique gathering held every five years in Haifa, the administrative and spiritual center of the Baha’i world community. Delegates hail from virtually every nation. Over the course of the convention, they participate in a series of consultative sessions and elect the Faith’s international governing body, the Universal House of Justice.
The consultations at International Convention are generally concerned with the development of the Baha’i Faith and the contributions of Baha’i communities to the progress of society. One of the primary areas of discussion is how Baha’u’llah’s teachings—such as the oneness of humankind, the equality of women and men, the harmony of science and religion, and the independent investigation of truth—are finding expression in a vast array of social settings, from the remotest of villages to large urban centers, and across diverse cultural realities.
The delegates attending this year’s International Convention are members of the annually-elected governing Baha’i councils of their countries. Referred to as National Spiritual Assemblies, these institutions guide and support the activities of the Baha’i community within their respective jurisdictions.
On 29 April, the delegates will gather to elect the nine members of the Universal House of Justice, a task that is undertaken as both a sacred duty and a privilege.
Delegates have a period of spiritual preparation before participating in the Convention. This entails time to pray and meditate in the Sacred Shrines in Haifa and Akka as well as to visit historical Baha’i holy places.
BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — A new section of the bicentenary website was made available moments ago.
The new feature provides an expanded view—from over 150 countries and territories—of initiatives and celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of Baha’u’llah.
Visitors can explore the greatly increased content, including image galleries, music, and videos, by region. The website reflects both the global scope of the celebrations and the diverse cultural settings in which Baha’u’llah’s life and teachings were honored.
First launched in September 2017, the site has unfolded in stages to feature artistic endeavors, articles on the life and teachings of Baha’u’llah, public messages from national and local leaders, a letter from the Universal House of Justice, and a feature film about the life of Baha’u’llah. Over the 72-hour period in October during which the bicentenary was commemorated, as the world turned twice on its axis, the site provided a regularly updated sampling of celebrations across the globe.
With the addition of the new section, the site will serve as a historical record of the worldwide outpouring of love for Baha’u’llah and dedication to His vision of a just and peaceful world.
MATUNDA SOY, Kenya — Marking a historic moment, the design for the local Baha’i House of Worship in Matunda Soy, Kenya, was unveiled at a gathering today that brought together over 1,000 people.
In a spirit of joy and excitement, the guests gathered to celebrate the occasion at the site where the future House of Worship will be built. The event included remarks offered by representatives of the Baha’i community and local officials as well as singing, drumming, and traditional dancing. Trees donated by neighbors in surrounding communities were then planted on the grounds.
“This unveiling ceremony brings so much joy to our hearts,” said a representative of the Baha’i community. “This Temple will be a focal point of worship, a nerve center of community life, a place where souls will gather at daybreak for humble invocation and communion before we flow out of its doors to engage in our daily pursuits.”
Senior Village Elder Violet Ombeva also addressed the audience, expressing her happiness that such a beautiful structure will be built in the area.
The design of the House of Worship is simple yet elegant in form, inspired by huts that are traditional to the region. The Temple’s architect, Neda Samimi, will be the first woman to design a Baha’i House of Worship.
The concept design features a two-tiered structure that will accommodate about 250 visitors. The exposed roof beams highlight the nine sides of the edifice and are drawn together at an apex skylight beneath which will be placed the Greatest Name. The design incorporates an intricate and expressive pattern that uses the diamond shape, a familiar motif in Kenyan culture. The Temple’s construction will be undertaken with materials from the region—its roof will use local slate, and the walls will be made from stone sourced from quarries nearby.
The process leading to this milestone for the community began with grassroots efforts to cultivate a devotional spirit and an educational process that builds capacity for service to humanity. Along the way, the design of the House of Worship has developed in tandem with the community’s efforts in other fields and has been refined over time.
“The Temple’s purpose is to serve Matunda Soy and its environs,” said Mrs. Samimi. “Its intention is to serve humanity, irrespective of race, religion, or tribe.”
Kenya is one of five countries that was designated by the Universal House of Justice in 2012 to build a local Baha’i House of Worship. Baha’i Temples are open to all as a space for worship and reflection.
ROSEAU, Dominica — Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm, was one of the most severe Atlantic hurricanes on record. When it swept through the Caribbean some seven months ago, the destruction it left in its wake was staggering—homes destroyed, agricultural fields ruined, and communities decimated. International media coverage at the time rightfully focused on the loss and tragedy that the people of the islands had suffered.
But in the months since, another story has unfolded in the Caribbean—one that is hopeful, positive, and not commonly told. It is the story of communities, throughout the islands, that have discovered in tragedy the power of unity, cooperation, and collective action to rebuild the physical environment and strengthen the social and spiritual connections that bind neighbors together. It is these connections that are essential for resilience in times of trial.
When natural disasters strike, communities that are united in their efforts “are more capable of taking meaningful and effective steps to respond and recover,” wrote the Baha’i International Community (BIC) in a statement published in May 2016. “[E]xperience has shown that people can exhibit remarkable resilience, selflessness, resourcefulness, and creativity in such times.”
The island of Dominica is one such example. Though relatively small in size, the local Baha’i communities on the island saw themselves not as helpless victims, but as protagonists in the transformation of their physical and social environments.
In the Kalinago territory of Dominica, a primarily rural and indigenous region that was particularly hard hit by Hurricane Maria, aid was slow to reach the area in the storm’s aftermath, with food, water, and other supplies that were earmarked for the region never making it out of Roseau, the capital city.
Recognizing the critical needs of their neighbors in the weeks following the storm, the Baha’is in the area were able to bring together community leaders, neighbors, friends, and others to consult on what they could do given the resources available to them. They decided to build several greenhouses to quickly re-establish food crops that had been decimated by the storm. Several residents offered their land to be used for the greenhouses where seeds could be planted and also plots of land where, later, the resulting seedlings could be transplanted.
“Building the greenhouses brought the community together in a profound way,” explained Siila Knight, a Baha’i from Barbados who visited Dominica to provide logistical support on behalf of the BIC. “Neighbors and friends joined together and worked from early morning until evening, bringing whatever materials they could spare or salvage and sawing planks from fallen coconut palms. After finishing their work for the evening, they would gather again for collective prayers.”
“It was very touching,” she continued. “Somehow everyone could feel the spiritual atmosphere while working together.”
Drawing on what was being learned in Kalinago, the Newtown neighborhood in Roseau also gathered to consult about how its inhabitants could take charge of the reconstruction efforts in their own community. On a Sunday in early January, dozens in the neighborhood discussed what needed to be done most urgently in the wake of the damage left by Hurricane Maria.
As residents consulted, there was hope present at the meeting in Newtown. Together they made plans to remove the logs and rubbish that were clogging the harbor and blocking access to the ocean, which is vital to their fishing community. Inspired by the work in the Kalinago territory, they decided that they could use some of the lumber retrieved from the bay to build a greenhouse where seeds could be sprouted rapidly and distributed for planting at farms whose crops had been destroyed.
“I’ve seen how all of these efforts have given everyone hope,” said Ms. Knight, who has been involved in the reconstruction work taking place in both communities. The community witnessed firsthand the power of consultation to solve difficult problems and foster a collective will for action.
By March, the Newtown neighborhood, with some financial and logistical assistance from the BIC, had made substantial progress in addressing those aspects of the reconstruction that were possible for the local inhabitants to carry out themselves. They also arranged for therapists to come to the community and provide counselling for those who had experienced tragic loss from the devastation of the hurricane.
At first, the only seeds they could obtain for the greenhouses were for bok choy, a vegetable unfamiliar to the people of the region. But they planted it anyway, and soon developed recipes for the leafy green that families shared with each other. Later they were able to plant additional crops such as pumpkins, beans, carrots, cabbages, lettuce, watermelon, chives, tomatoes, parsley, and okra.
In the months since the greenhouses were constructed, the seedlings grown there have been used to establish crops and provide food for the inhabitants of several villages in the region. The community has also worked to assist other endeavors, such as building a new roof for the community library and obtaining supplies for a few schools in the territory.
Voicing an opinion held by many, an inhabitant of a village in the Kalinago territory shared: “What we have done together with the Baha’is—this is the first time that we have seen someone make a promise to help and actually fulfill it.”
“…the involvement of youth is not something to be sought for [their] sake alone, nor a tool designed to advance [their] needs as a specific population group. Rather, it is a component critical to the well-being of all of humankind, young and old alike.”
Young people everywhere are known for their idealism, energy, and purity of heart. At the same time, youth must contend with the forces of materialism that are so prevalent in society today.
Youth are the future. But they are also very much present now, as significant actors in our communities, workplaces, and global spaces today. The way they understand themselves, their capacities, and their role in society therefore has significant social consequences.
Rear more from the Baha’i International Community here.
AGUA AZUL, Colombia — The crown at the top of the roof of the local Baha’i House of Worship in Colombia has been installed, marking an important milestone for this historic initiative.
The yellow structure that sits atop the terracotta-tiled roof represents the blooming cocoa flower—an iconic symbol in the country—and was put into place soon after the first day of spring, which corresponds with the Baha’i New Year. It is made out of a fluorescent material that absorbs sunlight in the day and lights up naturally with the sunset.
In the coming weeks, a calligraphic rendering of the word ‘Baha,’ meaning glory, will be installed within the roof’s crown. Every Baha’i House of Worship has a variation of this sacred symbol placed at its apex.
Ever since the temple was announced by the Universal House of Justice in 2012, surrounding communities have felt a sense of collective ownership for its development.
“The construction of the Temple has certainly had an impact on the community,” said local youth Jean Paul Viafara Mora, age 18. “It has opened a healthy space for people to enter, and provided an alternative to the kinds of activities people undertake that may not be very good for them.”
He continued: “The Faith has a spiritual potency that is affecting all of us, contributing to our spiritual development and connection with our Creator.”
As the project has progressed, efforts to build a spiritually and materially vibrant community have advanced together with the construction. For the last five years, members of the community have been working on a reforestation project on the grounds of the House of Worship. The initiative has helped to reintroduce native vegetation to the area, which was decimated by the proliferation of sugarcane plantations across the land over many decades.
The revival of the natural habitat in Norte del Cauca has corresponded with a spiritual awakening in the population, where gatherings for prayers in all kinds of settings bring together neighbors in a spirit of unity and love. Many from among the population have found common paths of service to the community, strengthening neighborly bonds while working shoulder to shoulder.
A major aspect of the reforestation project has been the spiritual connection between the people and the land. The community often holds devotional meetings on the land of the Bosque Nativo, or native forest, in the mornings before commencing work.
These developments have attracted the attention of many in the region, including local Mayor Jenny Nair Gomez, who recently visited the Temple grounds. She expressed her eagerness for the Temple to open to the people soon, and it is clear that she shares the community’s enthusiasm about the impact of this major development for the area. Mayor Nair Gomez committed herself to working for positive social progress alongside the many people who have been inspired by the Temple.
PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea — In a historic event earlier today, the design for the national Baha’i House of Worship of Papua New Guinea (PNG) was unveiled. The House of Worship will be one of two national Baha’i temples to be constructed in the world in the coming years, signifying a new milestone for the Baha’i world community.
Some five hundred people gathered at the temple site in the capital city, Port Moresby, to honour this unprecedented occasion, which was celebrated at Naw-Ruz, the Baha’i New Year.
Traditional music and dance from representatives of various regions of the country imbued the celebration with joy and excitement. A group from Madina village, home of the first indigenous Bahá’í in PNG, performed a sacred dance to mark the occasion.
After an uplifting devotional program, the Secretary of the National Assembly of PNG gave a presentation on the concept of a House of Worship.
“In the Baha’i writings, the House of Worship is described as a collective center of society to promote cordial affection,” said Confucius Ikoirere, the National Secretary, in his opening remarks. “It stands as a universal place of worship open to all the inhabitants of a locality, irrespective of their religion, background, ethnicity, or gender.” Mr. Ikoirere also talked about the significance of the temple to community building and how it represents the coherence between service and worship and is unique in the annals of religion.
Originally from New Zealand, Rodney Hancock—one of two individuals who brought the Baha’i Faith to PNG in the 1950s—was asked to unveil the temple design before the audience.
A group of women from Mount Brown sang a song in their traditional language, describing how their forefathers and mothers had accepted the Baha’i Faith and had said that they did not know all that the Faith would bring but that it would bring wondrous developments in the future. While pointing to the beautiful rendering of what the House of Worship will look like, the group said that they know now what their people had meant.
The architectural team—composed of indigenous architect from PNG Henry Lape and Saeed Granfar—also addressed the audience. They explained that the “search for a universal theme” for the temple was “a profound challenge in a country with more than 700 distinct cultural groups.
“One subtle image which time and again stood out to us was that of the art of weaving,” continued Mr. Lape and Mr. Granfar in their talk. “In traditional village life, which remains alive and vibrant in Papua New Guinea today, and in urban households alike, woven surfaces and objects are found in abundance. It is an image which resonates closely with ‘home’ for many of us, a functional and inherently beautiful art form which we interact with daily.”
The architects’ reflections also touched on how the House of Worship will be a space where the people of PNG can unite in the worship of God and find inspiration to serve humanity together. “The craft of weaving is analogous to the process of building unity in diversity. Individual strands come together to form something infinitely stronger than the object constituent parts, and the whole draws on the contributions of each individual strand.”
The central edifice of the House of Worship will have a seating capacity of 350. The nine gable-roofed entrances reflect a traditional structure that is associated with the sacred throughout several major regions of the country.