Day 1: Galvanic conference opening celebrates history and achievements
SANTIAGO — The vibrant color, music, and splendor of the cultures of South America’s diverse peoples were on display at the opening of a historic conference here. The audience, numbering nearly five thousand, was galvanized as it celebrated the opening of the Bahá’í Temple for South America.
View a video capturing the joy and energy of those attending this momentous event.
The stage of Santiago’s Movistar arena was the setting for the first session. Prayers, talks, musical performances, dances, and dramatic presentations—involving all ages—offered a glimpse of the rich cultural heritage of South America and explored the relationship between the continent and the Baha’i Faith.
Representing the Universal House of Justice, Mrs. Antonella Demonte read a special message addressed to the gathering at “a moment of high achievement for the Bahá’í world after much earnest striving”.
“The process of raising up Bahá’í Houses of Worship, an endeavour whose origins can be traced back to the days of the Blessed Beauty Himself, has reached the point where today a Mother Temple stands upon the soil of every continent,” read the message.
“A powerful spiritual beacon is now in full blaze at the foot of the Andes,” the message said, describing the House of Worship as a vital institution which embodies “two essential and inseparable aspects of Baha’i life: worship and service.”
The program that followed explored the history and unfoldment of the Baha’i Faith in South America.
Among the first Baha’is to set foot on the continent to share their beliefs were three brave North-American women—Martha Root, Leonora Armstrong and May Maxwell. Their heroic efforts in the early decades of the twentieth century were vividly brought to life by three actors in a dramatic presentation, titled Las Rosas Blancas de America.
The conference also explored the subsequent achievements of dynamic Baha’i communities that sprang up across the continent and the receptivity of pure-hearted people of that region from all backgrounds who responded to the message of Baha’u’llah.
An especially moving theme of the day was the historical response of the indigenous peoples who “embraced the vision of Bahá’u’lláh and His Faith, recognizing the power of His Word to liberate the soul and transform society”.
Speakers from among the indigenous representatives captivated the audience with their accounts.
Music and artistic performances filled the arena with the joyful spirit of the occasion.
Two more days remain of the conference, during which many further facets of the development of the Faith will be explored.
Day 2: House of Worship rises from concept to reality
SANTIAGO — On the second day of the conference marking the opening of the final continental Baha’i House of Worship, participants reflected on the significance of the edifice and its role as a focal point for institutions that will emerge to serve the surrounding population.
Claudio Orrego, the former Mayor of Penalolen and now governor of the Santiago Metropolitan Region, described how the Temple came to be situated at the foothills of the Andes. Expressing his gratitude on behalf of the people of Santiago, he described the Temple’s presence there as a “gift of love”.
The morning session also paid tribute to the hundreds of people who had contributed to raising the House of Worship.
Juan Carlos Quiroz spoke on behalf of all of the workers on the project. He told the crowd that many of those who had worked on the construction of the Temple were not present, including young volunteers from a variety of countries who, at times, took on the lion’s share of the heavy work. He acknowledged the immense, collective endeavor that had given rise to the sacred edifice now being inaugurated.
Among the presentations in the day was a moving historical account of Baha’i Houses of Worship that helped to put into context the occasion being celebrated.
Ximena Osorio, a Colombian Baha’i, spoke of the importance of temples in every religious dispensation and highlighted a unique concept that is associated with Baha’i Houses of Worship:
“In the Baha’i community devotion must find expression in action,” she explained. “Prayer, though essential for the inner life of the human being, should lead to actions that give outer expression to inner transformation.”
Drawing attention to the very first Baha’i House of Worship—built in Ishqabad (now Ashgabat, Turkmenistan) in 1908—she described how, in its very fiber, the concepts of service and worship were interwoven. That first House of Worship included buildings that served as a travelers’ hospice, a school, and medical facility. The education of girls became a priority of the flourishing Baha’i community of the time.
Also addressing the audience, the architect of the Temple, Siamak Hariri, provided a fascinating glimpse into the design process that resulted in the unique structure of the House of Worship in Santiago. His talk honored the many people on the construction team who, in a variety of roles, brought this collaborative effort to such a successful conclusion, and he voiced the architecture team’s deep sense of gratitude for the privilege of playing a role in this magnificent project.
First visits to the Temple
Throughout the afternoon, groups of around 450 participants traveled in buses for their first visit to the House of Worship and a special devotional program. Often overcome with emotion, joy and gratitude were visible on their beaming faces as they approached the Temple, some through rainfall that added a sense of wonderment to the scene.
Ernestina Cahuaza Chimpuqai, an indigenous Baha’i from Peru, embraced the Faith of Baha’u’llah more than 30 years ago. She flew for the first time in her life to participate in the inauguration of the House of Worship.
“I am very happy and very grateful,” she explained, speaking in her native tongue, “because of the blessing that God has given me to visit the Temple.”
Celebrating the work of the global Baha’i community
For those remaining at the main conference venue while Temple visits took place, representatives of national Baha’i communities presented how they combine a life of service with worship, as well as insights into their own history and aspects of their culture.
Some of the presentations focused on endeavors of social action and educational initiatives, including examples from various countries in the Americas.
Participants, for instance, highlighted a production of a television series in Ecuador that explores aspects of family life in a neighborhood. The SAT (Sistema Aprendizaje Tutorial) program—which has received government accreditation and recognition by the governments of Colombia and Honduras and provides secondary education to rural youth—was also presented.
Social and economic development initiatives in Chile itself were among the other examples discussed, including one of eight Baha’i-inspired radio stations in South America—named Radio Baha’i—which has worked closely with the indigenous Mapuche people
Day 3: Looking to the future
SANTIAGO — As the sun rose behind the Andes, more than 250 people representing various indigenous populations of South America entered the newly-dedicated continental Baha’i Temple. The melodies of the choir permeated that sacred space, as Baha’i scriptures in Spanish and the Mapuche language, resounded through the Temple’s auditorium, touching the hearts of those present.
This moving scene ushered in the final day of the special inauguration ceremonies that have unfolded since Thursday.
Speaking after the dawn visit, Paicavi Painemal Morales, an indigenous Baha’i from Temuko in Chile explained that “As Mapuches, we pray in many different places—we are very connected to the land and to nature.
“When we pray,” he continued, “we pray directly to God and so for this reason the Temple is very special for us—and it is for this reason that many Mapuche are Baha’is.”
Jesus Angel Gudino was among the first of Argentina’s Guarani people to accept the Baha’i teachings in the early 1970s. “I am very happy to be here,” said Mr. Gudino, “because this event shows the unity of everything—the cultures, the people: all is put into practice.”
“It was impossible for me to imagine such a great number of people,” he said. “We were so small when I first became a Baha’i.”
A member of the Wayuu from the north of Colombia, Carlos Javier Epiayu Herrera, was determined to tell his family and friends back home everything that he had been experiencing over the past several days.
“All the knowledge that we acquire here we will apply in our country and we will share it.”
This special dawn visit to the Temple on the final day reflected the significance given to the indigenous peoples’ contribution to the advancement of civilization—a theme that was present throughout the conference and highlighted on day 3.
A presentation by Baha’is from the northern region of Brazil drew attention to the love expressed in the Baha’i writings for indigenous populations. Baha’i sacred scriptures place particular emphasis on their capacity to illumine the world.
“Their awakening is a decisive moment in the life of the Faith and the life of these peoples,” said the Brazilian delegation.
As in the day before, groups of up to 500 people from among the nearly five thousand conference participants continued to make their first visits to the House of Worship.
Further reflections on service
Inspired by the vision of the Temple as an institution that weds together worship of God and service to humanity, representatives of national Baha’i communities from around the continent and further afield continued to share their experiences with social action.
In particular, a number of presentations were made about transformative educational processes initiated by Baha’i communities or Baha’i-inspired organizations. From small grassroots projects to larger, well-established institutions, examples were presented from such countries as Brazil, Suriname, Panama, and Bolivia.
A delegation from northern Brazil described how a program for 11-14 year olds was offered to a school in response to lack of spiritual values in the national school curriculum. A video showed the director of the school expressing gratitude for this program, which reaches around half of the pupils. “We are building a new history here,” she said.
Gustavo Ortega from the Nur University in Bolivia, which is also working to apply Baha’i principles to both its academic curriculum and administrative structures, told the conference, “We started a process that has changed education in our country.” The University has become recognized for its commitment to fairness, gender equality, and the generation and application of knowledge.
Individuals also shared the benefit of learning from other communities around the continent and applying what they discovered to their own activities.
Preparing for the future
The final session of the conference lifted and directed the vision of participants toward the months and years ahead.
In a keynote address, a former member of the Universal House of Justice, Dr. Farzam Arbab emphasized the great role that indigenous populations have in the “process of the spiritualization of the peoples and the nations”.
Dr. Arbab asked those present to look toward the future: “What will be the fruits that our efforts produce under the influence of the spiritual forces that now emanate from this House of Worship?”
Calling on those present to carry back with them to their countries the spirit of the conference, representative of the Universal House of Justice, Antonella Demonte, in the closing moments, drew the attention of the conference to the power of unity and love that had permeated the gathering of nearly five thousand people—what she described as “collective spirit”.
“How much more powerful is collective action!” she proclaimed……Read More
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