New Canadian parliamentary caucus looks at religion’s role in society | BWNS
New Canadian parliamentary caucus looks at religion’s role in society | BWNS

OTTAWA, Canada — In a rare dialogue about the role of faith in governance, Canadian parliamentarians and representatives of the country’s religious communities recently held the inaugural meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Interfaith Caucus—a new space to explore how principles and insights from religion can contribute to thinking about the challenges facing the country.

“I believe that religion defines who we are and what we value, and that democracy, which is a vehicle by which we inform change, is often guided by these values,” said Mobina Jaffer, a member of the Canadian Senate.

The recently formed all-party caucus is open to members of Canada’s elected House of Commons and appointed Senate and is organized with the support of the Canadian Interfaith Conversation (CIC), of which the Bahá’í Community of Canada is a member.

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Participants and organizers of the recent online meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Interfaith Caucus.

“The pandemic has produced new kinds of dialogue between government and religious communities,” said Geoffrey Cameron of the Canadian Bahá’í Office of Public Affairs. “It has made leaders more conscious of the important role religion continues to play in inspiring people to serve their society.”

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In December, a diverse group of religious leaders across Canada, including members of the Bahá’í National Spiritual Assembly and Local Spiritual Assemblies, met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
to talk about the contribution of faith communities in the context of the pandemic

. (Photo credit: Adam Scotti)

Stockwell Day, former MP and cabinet minister, spoke about the power of religion to bring comfort and hope, especially in times of crisis. “The very notion of religion in our society gives us a sense that there is restraint on a leader, and that there should be some sense of humility at the possibility that there is a bigger force out there than himself or herself, or the group to which they associate.”

He continued: “If individuals have a sense of religion—that there is something greater than ourselves—that brings a sense of solace.

“And so we imagine this spread over millions of citizens within a political setting, a significant portion of whom believe there is actually a power of God out there, [who] are living with a greater sense of respect and, we would hope, love for one another.”

Participants emphasized that beyond personal inspiration, religion can make important contributions to the policymaking process.

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Photographs taken before the current health crisis. Over the past few years, the Canadian Bahá’í community has been involved in organizing numerous
conferences

and other spaces to discuss the place of religion in public life and religion’s contribution to the betterment of society. Shown here is a yearly conference called Our Whole Society.

Member of Parliament Garnett Genuis said, “There are two concepts that are of supreme importance in religion: one is love and another is truth. And those two concepts have to go together. If you have love but no sense of truth, then … you’re not understanding what is really going on or what someone’s real needs are. And if you have a sense of the pursuit of truth, but no love in the process, that’s also clearly deficient… Love means being willing to confront serious injustice.”

Speaking with the News Service about the future of the all-party interfaith caucus, Dr. Cameron of the Bahá’í Office of Public Affairs states: “There is a need to foster new relationships among policymakers and faith communities and to frame conversations such that people can collectively advance in their thinking by exploring productive lines of inquiry, rather than framing every issue as a binary choice.”

“Underlying the contributions of the Office to the discourse on the role of religion in society,” he continued, “is the Bahá’í principle of the essential oneness of humanity. This caucus, although in its very early stages, is an expression of that principle and an example of greater societal unity.”

Temple arrival marks a new dawn in the heart of the Pacific | BWNS
Temple arrival marks a new dawn in the heart of the Pacific | BWNS
Work on the local Bahá’í temple in Vanuatu has begun, after the main components for its construction were transported to the remote island of Tanna.

LENAKEL, Vanuatu — A boat carrying a long-awaited cargo set sail from Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, to the remote island of Tanna a few days ago. By the time it had reached the island, over 250 people had gathered in great anticipation for its cargo: the main components of the local Bahá’í House of Worship to be built in the town of Lenakel.

“We are so happy for this moment,” said Joseph Tuaka, a member of the Bahá’í Local Spiritual Assembly of a nearby town, after the boat arrived. “There is a traditional belief that one day the people of Tanna will pray together in one house. That day is now come.”

Nalau Manakel, a member of the Bahá’í National Spiritual Assembly of Vanuatu, stated: “Many traditional songs and stories of the people of Tanna speak of a new way of living, when all enmity will be gone, and peace and harmony will come. The emergence of a Bahá’í temple in our community points to a great change that is taking place on this island spiritually and materially.”

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In-person gatherings held according to safety measures required by the government. Top left: Tanna residents hold a devotional program marking the arrival of the components of the local Bahá’í House of Worship on the island. Top right: The boat’s crew prepares to disembark after arriving at Tanna. Bottom: While the crew waits for a change of tide to be able to unload, residents welcome them ashore and place floral laurels around their necks in a customary sign of appreciation.

Speaking further about the significance of the House of Worship, Disline Iapum, the director of the temple, said: “We see the temple as a place of spiritual refuge, where we will come together to pray and draw inspiration for service to our community, in times of happiness or of crisis.”

Since the groundbreaking for the House of Worship in November 2019, many people have been coming together at the temple site to pray and offer assistance with various aspects of the project.

Some have been weaving bamboo to make the cladding for one of the surrounding auxiliary structures. Some are preparing an amphitheater for large community gatherings on a terraced slope that looks out over the Pacific Ocean. Some have been assisting with upkeep of the grounds, preventing the site from getting overgrown with the area’s lush vegetation.

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The central edifice of the temple has a distinctive
design

, with wooden walls and a thatched roof modeled after Vanuatu’s traditional architecture, supported by a hidden steel structure. The various parts of the structure were manufactured across the islands of Vanuatu and overseas, and were prepared for assembly in the capital, Port Vila, before being transported to Tanna.

“Youth, mothers, fathers, chiefs, everyone,” said Mr. Manakel, “they come with their tools and help. And you can see in their faces that they are doing it all with joy. They know that they are contributing to something that will be of great significance to future generations.”

Since the material for the central edifice arrived in Tanna, the main steel structure has been raised on the temple site in the town of Lenakel. A glass oculus at the apex of the structure, which will pour light into the House of Worship, was the first piece to be put in position using a temporary central column. The nine wings of the roof, shaped like the deep valleys that mark the terrain of the volcanic island, were then assembled around it one by one.

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The nine wings of the roof, shaped like the deep valleys that mark the terrain of the volcanic island, were assembled around the oculus one by one.

Reflecting on the future, Mr. Manakel says, “The Pacific Ocean is very special. There are currently only a few Bahá’í temples in the world, and several of them have been raised or are being built on the shores of the Pacific. We hope that one day many more villages and towns across all oceans and continents will feel the joy we felt when we saw the temple arrive—like seeing a light of hope shine out from the midmost heart of the ocean.”

A path toward a unified America | BWNS
A path toward a unified America | BWNS

Podcast: A path toward a unified America

The centenary of the first race amity conference held by the American Bahá’í community was marked by a three-day symposium exploring racial unity and social change.

Subscribe to the BWNS podcast for additional audio content.

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One hundred years ago, in May, the first race amity conference in the United States was held in Washington, D.C., by the American Bahá’í community, a defining moment on the path toward racial unity in the country.

The description on the program read, in part: “Half a century ago in America slavery was abolished. Now there has arisen need for another great effort in order that prejudice may be overcome. Correction of the present wrong requires no army, for the field of action is the hearts of our citizens.”

To mark the centenary of that historic gathering, the U.S. Bahá’í Office of Public Affairs brought together academics, civil society leaders, and other social actors for a three-day online symposium titled Advancing Together: Forging a Path Toward a Just, Inclusive and Unified Society.

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Panelists of a three-day online symposium held by the U.S. Bahá’í Office of Public Affairs titled Advancing Together: Forging a Path Toward a Just, Inclusive and Unified Society.

“For those of us gathered here today, we are conscious that we are engaged in a process aimed at profound organic change in the very structure of society,” said P.J. Andrews of the Office at the gathering.

“The change required to create justice in the country,” he continued, “is not only social and economic but moral and spiritual.”

The latest episode of the Bahá’í World News Service podcast provides highlights from the symposium at which panelists discussed topics including the role of language in fostering a sense of shared identity, the relationship between truth and justice, and the need to address systemic changes in efforts toward social justice.

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The discussions at the symposium looked at experiences of the U.S. Bahá’í community in fostering collaboration and strong bonds of friendship among people of diverse backgrounds in neighborhoods across the country. Some of these efforts are pictured here.

Woven throughout the conversations at the gathering was the spiritual principle of the essential oneness of humanity. Drawing on the Bahá’í teachings, May Lample, also of the Bahá’í Office of Public Affairs, stated: “Any movement that seeks to eradicate all forms of racism from our society has to be predicated on a notion that all human beings are in their essence the same, that they are deserving of dignity, that they possess unique skills and abilities, and that they are worthy of safety and security.

“And without an understanding of our oneness and interconnectedness our differences appear too vast, rather than adding necessary and valuable complexity and beauty to our lives.”

This symposium was part of an ongoing contribution of the Bahá’í Office of Public Affairs in the United States to the discourse on race unity. Recordings of discussions at the symposium can be viewed here.

Shift in agricultural systems necessary for sustainability, says BIC | BWNS
Shift in agricultural systems necessary for sustainability, says BIC | BWNS

BIC BRUSSELS — Each year, tens of thousands of people from Africa travel to Europe to work alongside a declining national agricultural workforce on farms in EU member states in an industry that is increasingly becoming dependent on migrant seasonal workers.

When the pandemic disrupted international travel in April 2020, the spring harvest throughout Europe was thrown into jeopardy, revealing the extent of the EU’s reliance on seasonal workers and their difficult living conditions. Additionally, the pandemic has brought renewed attention to economic crises, the loss of land by farmers, and other factors that are driving people to leave rural areas in Africa.

“The way that agricultural affairs are organized is not sustainable or equitable, be it in Europe, Africa, or anywhere else in the world. There are fundamental questions that need to be closely examined in the light of principles such as the oneness of humanity,” said Rachel Bayani of the Brussels Office of the Bahá’í International Community (BIC) at an online seminar held by the Office last Wednesday.

The gathering is part of a seminar series, co-hosted by the Brussels Office and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which brings together policymakers, academics, and civil society organizations from Europe and Africa to explore the relationship between agriculture, rural sustainability, and migration, particularly in the context of partnerships between the two regions.

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Panelists of the most recent seminar in a series held by BIC Brussels and the FAO. The seminar focused on the viability of the EU’s agricultural sector and the need for rethinking production systems.

Rodrigo de Lapuerta, Director at the Liaison Office in Brussels of the FAO, spoke about the novel approach of the seminars: “FAO estimates that 80% of all moves involve rural areas. Migration and rural transformation, with the sustainability of agri-food systems, are totally interrelated. However, I do not think these two issues have often been treated jointly.”

Attendees at the gatherings have highlighted different aspects of the links between migration and agriculture. “Many factors influence why and how people migrate from rural areas… [but] it is essential that this migration is done out of choice, rather than necessity,” said Mr. Ola Henrickson, Regional Director at the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

A particular focus of the most recent seminar was on the viability of EU’s agricultural sector and the need for rethinking production systems.

“We have to remember that our food security depends on the respect of our agri-food workers’ rights,” said Maximo Torero Cullen, the FAO’s Chief Economist, at a recent gathering. “The pandemic has shown us how indispensable migrants are… but it has also rightfully put the spotlight on the poor working and living conditions in the [agricultural] sector and the invisibility of these workers.”

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Dr. Torero Cullen and other participants emphasized that policies of African and European states and regional bodies aimed at building sustainable food and agriculture systems need to put at the center the interests, safety, and well-being of agricultural workers.

“Many EU Member States frame their seasonal worker schemes primarily in terms of meeting labor-market needs at home,” said Camille Le Coz of the Migration Policy Institute of Europe. But she highlighted that some countries are looking at other approaches, including framing migration policies around “co-development”—creating arrangements that are beneficial to the sending and receiving countries as well as the workers themselves.

Reflecting on the gathering, Mrs. Bayani states: “Our current economic and agricultural systems and their implications for migration, the environment, nutrition, and livelihoods need to be closely examined. The Bahá’í teachings offer insights that can be helpful in this conversation: that the question of economics should begin with the farmer, because the farmer ‘is the first active agent in human society.’ This idea can allow us to explore possibilities for different ways to look at production systems.”

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Images of agricultural initiatives of the Bahá’í community in (clockwise from left) Colombia, Uganda, and Nepal to strengthen local agriculture.

She continues: “The issues discussed at these seminars reflect only some of the profound questions before humanity. The Bahá’í teachings envisage that every element of society, including economic relations, will have to undergo a profound transformation in the light of the essential principle of the oneness of humanity.”

Future seminars over the coming months will continue to look at agriculture and migration, focusing on topics such as education and the future of villages.

“Endurance through cycles of war”: A resilient community fosters hope in the C.A.R. | BWNS
“Endurance through cycles of war”: A resilient community fosters hope in the C.A.R. | BWNS
Members of an emergency committee established by the Bahá’í National Spiritual Assembly of the C.A.R. drove hundreds of kilometers from Bangui, the capital, to the town of Bambari, stopping in towns along the way to provide essentials.

BANGUI, Central African Republic — A years-long armed conflict in the Central African Republic (C.A.R.) has disrupted life across the country and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

In the midst of this crisis, the Bahá’í National Spiritual Assembly has guided the Bahá’ís of the country in their efforts to contribute to social progress, most recently drawing on a network of people engaged in community-building activities to channel assistance where it is most needed.

Speaking with the News Service, Hélène Pathé, member of the National Spiritual Assembly, describes the context in which such initiatives are under way in parts of the country: “The country has faced serious challenges. There are places where people have been severely affected and have had to flee, abandoning their homes and losing their means of making a living. This is the condition in many regions.”

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Relief efforts carried out according to safety measures required by the government. Members of the emergency committee and of a Bahá’í Local Spiritual Assembly work together in coordinating the distribution of relief packages among village residents.

Despite these conditions, the Bahá’ís in these areas have helped to foster resilience and a vibrant community life that has endured through cycles of war. For decades, regular gatherings for prayer have been strengthening bonds of friendship, and Bahá’í educational programs have been developing in children and youth a deep appreciation for the unity of all peoples, races, and religions.

During times of intense conflict, when entire populations have had to abandon their villages, teachers from community schools established with the support of a Bahá’í-inspired organization have sought ways to re-establish programs in temporary locations, explains Mrs. Pathé.

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Photographs taken before the current health crisis. Teachers from
community schools

established with the support of a Bahá’í-inspired organization have sought ways to re-establish programs in temporary locations during times of intense conflict.

As part of its efforts to further enhance its capacity for responding to crises, the National Spiritual Assembly formed an emergency committee in March. The members of the committee, including Mrs. Pathé, quickly got to work. Within a few weeks they had assembled a team and headed to identified areas to help in person.

Over three days, they drove hundreds of kilometers from Bangui, the capital, to the town of Bambari, stopping in four other towns along the way to provide essentials, such as medicine for water-borne illness, to people who had returned from taking refuge in forest areas. Travel to these communities has been permitted under government health restrictions owing to exceptions for humanitarian efforts.

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Young people from Bangui prepare to travel with members of the emergency committee established by the National Spiritual Assembly.

The emergency committee has worked closely with Bahá’í Local Spiritual Assemblies in coordinating the distribution of relief packages among village residents. “We had prepared as well as we could ahead of time with the information we could get,” says Mrs. Pathé, “but as soon as we arrived in a town, we sat down with the members of the Local Assembly, prayed together, and consulted about the needs, which they knew intimately.”

Young people have been at the forefront of these efforts, says Mrs. Pathé. “The youth were ready to spring into action as soon as the committee called on the community for support. They view this work as an extension of serving their neighborhoods: a contribution to the material and spiritual progress of society.

“They could see how this act of travelling for days to deliver a few necessities to people by hand was not just about addressing an immediate need. Meeting and speaking with people who had been cut off for so long also brought encouragement and helped build ties of unity as all saw that they are not alone in their challenges—like one family, there are others across the country who care for them and walk with them.”

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A view of the river near Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. A years-long armed conflict in the country has disrupted life and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

Two months since its formation, the committee is already thinking about how to address long-term needs, including through projects for local food production.

With the experience it has gained, the committee is now expanding its efforts by contacting many more Bahá’í Local Assemblies throughout the country.

“In these relief efforts, we often call to mind ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Who was always attentive to those in need and ever ready to respond,” says Mrs. Pathé. “He never hesitated to offer help. The National Spiritual Assembly hopes and wishes to do the same for the people of our country. What grieves us as a national body is that we can’t cover the whole country. Our efforts so far are only a small start, and we are learning little by little how to reach everyone.”

Kenya: First Local Bahá’í temple in Africa opens its doors | BWNS
Kenya: First Local Bahá’í temple in Africa opens its doors | BWNS
Residents of Matunda Soy, Kenya, are celebrating the opening of a local temple that is “a sign of unity.”

MATUNDA, Kenya — A luminous presence in Matunda Soy, Kenya, the first local Bahá’í House of Worship in the continent of Africa was dedicated at an opening ceremony Sunday morning.

The chorus of “Make my prayer, O my Lord, a fountain of living waters” sung by a local choir resonated deeply within the people who had gathered at the dedication ceremony, and represented thousands of people nearby and across Kenya celebrating a momentous step in the spiritual journey of their people.

The House of Worship—referred to in the Bahá’í writings as a Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, meaning “Dawning-place of the Praise of God”—has a unique reality. It stands at the heart of the community, is open to all peoples, and is a place where prayer and contemplation inspire service to society.

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An aerial view of the local Bahá’í House of Worship in Matunda Soy, Kenya.

Sunday’s opening ceremony included remarks from Townshend Lihanda, a member of the Continental Board of Counsellors in Africa whom the Universal House of Justice named as its representative to the event. Mr. Lihanda read a letter of the House of Justice addressed to the gathering, which stated: “…at a time when the world is caught in the midst of uncertainty, the efforts of the friends throughout Matunda Soy and beyond have culminated in the raising of this beacon of hope, a cause for jubilation and great joy.”

The Universal House of Justice stated that the completion of the project in just three years and under difficult circumstances “is a testament to the vitality, resourcefulness, and determination of the Kenyan people.”

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A night view of the local Bahá’í House of Worship in Matunda Soy, Kenya. The House of Worship has a unique reality. It stands at the heart of the community, is open to all peoples, and is a place where prayer and contemplation inspire service to society.

Others in attendance included government officials, village and district chiefs, local dignitaries, representatives of local and national Bahá’í institutions, the architect and other representatives of the construction team.

Mourice Mukopi, the chief of the group of villages where the temple is located, said, “The most important thing about the Bahá’í temple is that it welcomes everyone from different religions to come and worship.”

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The dedication ceremony included performances by local choirs from Matunda Soy.

In speaking with the Bahá’í World News Service, residents of the area have echoed these sentiments. “The people of Matunda Soy see the House of Worship as a sign of unity,” says Andrew Juma.

Elder Khaemba, another member of the local community, states: “The differences that existed before are over, since people of all faiths come together in prayer at the temple.”

A village elder, Justus Wafula, states: “The House of Worship is a space where the negative forces of society have no place. When we go to the temple, we know that we are on the right path. We know that we are home.”

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Some one hundred participants attended the dedication ceremony, while thousands of people nearby and across Kenya celebrated a momentous step in the spiritual journey of their people.

The sense of home created by the appearance of the temple is reminiscent of the traditional huts of the region, explains Neda Samimi, the House of Worship’s architect. “A place of worship is a place where your soul belongs, where you should feel comfortable whatever your religion and be able to connect and commune with your Creator.”

Mrs. Samimi describes how the process of raising the temple was unifying.

“Everyone who has been involved in the project has been very conscious that this structure is dedicated to the promotion of oneness and the praise of God. All our work has been carried out through consultation, and our meetings would begin with prayers from diverse faiths.”

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A sacred Bahá’í symbol known as the Greatest Name has been placed at the apex of the dome. The Greatest Name is a calligraphic representation of the invocation “O Glory of the All-Glorious.”

Construction came to a close this month with two significant events. A sacred Bahá’í symbol known as the Greatest Name was raised to the apex of the dome.

Then, on Saturday, a small ornamental case containing dust from one of the Holy Shrines at the Bahá’í World Centre was placed within the structure of the House of Worship, symbolizing the profound connection between the temple and the spiritual center of the Bahá’í Faith.

John Madahani, a member of the Bahá’í Local Spiritual Assembly of Matunda, explains how Bahá’í community life in the region has evolved since its origins in the 1970s. “In the past, only a few Bahá’ís would gather in their homes for prayers. Now more than 300 families regularly hold devotional gatherings, praying with their neighbors, welcoming all without asking what religion one is from.

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Photograph taken before the current health crisis. Residents of Matunda Soy gathered at the
groundbreaking ceremony

for the temple construction project in March 2019.

“And when we started the practice of gathering on the temple grounds early in the morning before construction began, we saw how powerful it was for all members of the community to have such a moment together before going about their daily tasks. Otherwise we would never see workers and farmers, youth and parents together at once.”

Bernard Liyosi, another member of the Local Assembly, says, “The House of Worship brings us closer to God through both worship and service. We receive energy from gathering at the temple, energy that we channel into building stronger communities.”

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Attendees of the opening ceremony approaching the House of Worship in Matunda Soy, Kenya