world interfaith harmony week in cornwall

World Religion Day isn’t the only holiday that promotes interreligious harmony: since 2010, the world has also celebrated World Interfaith Harmony Week, an event whose purpose is “to enhance mutual understanding, harmony and cooperation among people” of all faiths. It falls on the first week of February, shortly after World Religion Day. The Canadian Bahá’í News Service just posted nationwide highlights of Bahá’í participation in World Interfaith Harmony Week, and I thought I’d highlight this interesting tidbit from Cornwall, a town not too far from Ottawa:

In Cornwall on the St. Lawrence River in Ontario, the event took place in Knox–St. Paul’s United Church, organized by the Cornwall Interfaith Partnership, and was attended by approximately 90 people from many different backgrounds.

The event began with socializing over a meal prepared and donated by a Partnership member and his family, and was followed by the screening of a video about a “Charter for Compassion” project that aims “to advance the spirit and practice of the Golden Rule.” A workshop then explored three questions to help participants examine and eliminate the roots of inter-religious conflict: 1) Did you learn something in the film that surprised you?; 2) Are there beliefs or practices about other groups that make you feel uncomfortable?; and 3) Do you have any idea where these feelings come from – that is, where do you get information or how are your assumptions formed?

The 10 core members of the Cornwall Interfaith Partnership come from Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Bahá’í and unaffiliated backgrounds, and almost all have considerable experience in small-group facilitation; other associated members belong to the Hindu and Sikh communities. In its functioning, the Partnership tries to model the values of unity, respect and community action that it seeks to promote in the wider community.

Reverend Donald Wachenschwanz, the minister of the church hosting the event, said that the gathering was “awesome,” with many participants insisting that such events should be held in Cornwall every three months out of a deep yearning to see the various seemingly antagonistic religious communities come together in harmony and friendship.

I love that last part especially, about insisting that these events should be held every three months, out of a yearning to see different religious communities come together. Sounds like a step in the right direction—in fact, gatherings to promote harmony between people of different religions and nations should be happening every month, even every week. There are so many opportunities for antagonism and hatred in the world. It just makes sense to take every chance we can to create opportunities for fellowship and love.

the value of sharing

Quote

Here are the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to noted philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, author of the essay The Gospel of Wealth.

O respected personage! I have read your work, The Gospel of Wealth, and noted therein truly apposite and sound recommendations for easing the lot of humankind.

To state the matter briefly, the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh advocate voluntary sharing, and this is a greater thing than the equalization of wealth. For equalization must be imposed from without, while sharing is a matter of free choice.

Man reacheth perfection through good deeds, voluntarily performed, not through good deeds the doing of which was forced upon him. And sharing is a personally chosen righteous act: that is, the rich should extend assistance to the poor, they should expend their substance for the poor, but of their own free will, and not because the poor have gained this end by force. For the harvest of force is turmoil and the ruin of the social order. On the other hand voluntary sharing, the freely-chosen expending of one’s substance, leadeth to society’s comfort and peace. It lighteth up the world; it bestoweth honour upon humankind.

I have seen the good effects of your own philanthropy in America, in various universities, peace gatherings, and associations for the promotion of learning, as I travelled from city to city. Wherefore do I pray on your behalf that you shall ever be encompassed by the bounties and blessings of heaven, and shall perform many philanthropic deeds in East and West. Thus may you gleam as a lighted taper in the Kingdom of God, may attain honour and everlasting life, and shine out as a bright star on the horizon of eternity.

Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp.114-115

announcing: 95 baha’i youth conferences!

New: 5 things to do while you’re waiting for the 95 conferences!

95 youth conferences

“What has been accomplished in the past two years will, surely, be far surpassed, not just in the concluding years of this present Plan but in the remaining years of the first century of the Formative Age.  To spur on this mighty enterprise and to summon today’s youth to fully assume the responsibilities they must discharge in this fast-contracting interval, we announce the convocation of 95 youth conferences, between July and October, planned for locations that span the globe…”

The Universal House of Justice

We thought the idea of 41 regional conferences was pretty wild and amazing. When we heard the news that the Universal House of Justice was inviting us to gather and reflect on the process of community growth with fellow collaborators from around our regions, we knew we had to stand up and take note. But we may never have suspected the magnitude of what was to follow. Introducing a series of 95—that’s right, ninety-five—youth conferences, to be held this year between July and October. Their aim will be to give young people the opportunity to learn about contributing to the betterment of their communities through the Junior Youth Empowerment Program.

The announcement had barely made its way around the globe before my friend Ilya went ahead and mapped out each one of the coming 95 conferences on Google Maps, so you can look for yourself and see which one will be held closest to your area. Check up on doberman pizza in coming days—and of course, keep your eyes on your inbox—for more on this exciting news! (Update, May 2013: The Universal House of Justice recently announced plans for another 19 youth conferences worldwide. Wow!)

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anticipating the fast

dawn of a new dayFebruary rolls around, and the groundhogs have poked out of their holes and carried about their business. Shadows or no shadows, we know the spring is coming, and with it, a busy season for Bahá’ís: First, Ayyam-i-Há, a time for fellowship, generosity, and hospitality; then the Feast of Loftiness, which opens the 19-day-long month of fasting from March 2nd–20th, during which Bahá’ís from the ages of 15 to 70 years abstain from eating or drinking from sunrise ’til sunset. The Fast comes to an end with the celebration of Naw-Rúz on March 21st. Falling on the spring equinox, Naw-rúz is a celebration of revival, renewal, and springtime, in both the physical and spiritual senses. Fasting is a period of preparation for this springtime, during which we not only fast physically, but pay special attention to our spiritual life as well, in order to come into a new year with our souls refreshed and strengthened.

Interested in finding sunrise and sunset times for the Bahá’í Fast? Check out the list of Bahá’í Fasting Times for 2013, complete with links to Fasting calendars for major Canadian cities and selected cities worldwide, and a ready-made chart for Ottawa.

world religion day in vietnam

In reading through the storied past of the Vietnamese Bahá’í community, I’ve been particularly impressed by its interfaith work. It seems evident that no other community worked more tirelessly for interreligious understanding during the war years than did the Bahá’ís. One of the early contributions to this work was the organization of national and local commemorations of World Religion Day, an interfaith observance, initiated in America in 1950 and thereafter celebrated worldwide, on the third Sunday in January each year. Its purpose is now as it was then: to call attention to the essential harmony of the spiritual principles underlying the world’s religions, and to emphasize the role of religion as a unifying force for humanity. Observed for over a decade prior to the end of the Vietnam War, it became, according to observers, “by far the most important inter-faith event in Vietnam”.

The first observance of World Religion Day, or Ngày tôn giáo Hoàn cầu, in Vietnam took place on January 21st, 1962, at the Bahá’í Centre at 193/1C Cong Ly Street, Saigon. “For the first time in Viet Nam,” the papers announced, “representatives of seven of the world’s religions will meet to discuss ‘the fundamental oneness of religion’ on the 13th annual World Religion Day…” Representatives of Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity (Baptist), Islam, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and the Bahá’í Faith were in attendance, and addressed the crowd regarding the fundamental tenets and principles of each of their religions. “We are for a world where every one will see his neighbour as his own brother, and we are working toward the day when affection will make the boundaries between states useless,” the Bahá’í representative, Nguyen Ke Tong, declared. His words must have struck a chord with the listeners, as Vietnam itself was at the time bisected by one of these boundaries, one that had torn families apart and turned brothers, cousins and friends against each other, as they separated into North and South.

The observance of World Religion Day provided a much-needed forum for interreligious dialogue to address the enmity that had developed between the country’s Buddhist and Catholic communities as a result of the prejudicial policies of South Vietnamese President Ngô Đình Diệm. Hoping to address this growing conflict, the Bahá’í speaker at World Religion Day in January 1963 publically appealed to the leaders of Vietnam’s faith communities to establish an Interfaith Council that would work towards unity, reconciliation, and the protection of the rights of all religious communities in Vietnam. The need for such an institution was undeniable, but the injustices perpetrated by Diệm’s government against the Buddhist community—forced conversions, looting, shelling and demolition of pagodas—had become too great to bear. When a rarely enforced law was invoked to prohibit Buddhists in the city of Huế from flying flags on Buddha’s birthday in May 1963, protests broke out, which were met with live fire from the police and army. The Buddhist Crisis broke out, which would end six months later in a military coup and Diệm’s assassination.

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global concern rises for baha’is in iran

Things have not improved for the long-suffering Bahá’í community in Iran. In fact, it seems as though the persecution to which they’ve been subjected has increased in recent years. Anthony Vance, Director of Public Affairs for the Bahá’ís of the United States, recently summarized the situation, stating that

“[T]he number of Bahá’ís in prison currently stands at 116. It has more than doubled since the beginning of 2011 when the number was 56. This number includes not only the seven-person, former leadership group but also educators and administrators of the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education, the community’s informal solution to higher education from which Bahá’í youth have been barred for over 30 years, as well as Bahá’ís in Semnan, a town especially targeted by the government of Iran for severe persecution of Bahá’ís.”

The one source of good news seems to be the sustained international reaction condemning Iran for its treatment of Iranian Bahá’ís. After passing its third committee in November, a resolution decrying Iran’s “serious ongoing and recurring” human rights violations was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly just before the holidays, the 25th such resolution adopted on Iran’s human rights violations since 1985.

“This vote signals loud and clear the international community’s refusal to accept Iran’s ongoing and intensifying repression of its own people – or the government’s claims that such violations do not take place,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.

“The list of abuses outlined in this resolution is long and cruel. Overall, the picture it paints is of a government that is so afraid of its own people that it cannot tolerate anyone who holds a viewpoint that is different from its own repressive ideology.”

“For the Baha’is, there has been persistent and worsening persecution at the hands of the government and its agents,” she observed.

The United Nations resolution was soon echoed by the United States House of Representatives, which passed a resolution on January 1st specifically ”condemning the government of Iran for its state-sponsored persecution of its Bahá’í minority and its continued violation of the International Covenants on Human Rights.” Kenneth E. Bowers, Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, outlined the importance of the resolution, saying, “The Bahá’í community is encouraged by the emphasis the U.S. Congress has placed on the human rights abuses in Iran… We are convinced that this continued international pressure has kept the situation for the Bahá’ís in Iran from getting much worse.”

Nor have the United States been the only country voicing their protests at Iran’s continued pattern of repression and persecution. As in previous years, Canada was the main sponsor of this year’s resolution condemning Iran’s human rights violations. Academics, artists, media personalities and human rights supporters across the globe, including Brazil, Hungary, Slovakia, India and Australia, have all made the news in recent months by speaking out against the repression of Bahá’ís and other minorities in Iran, adding one voice after another to an ever-loudening chorus shouting in defense of human dignity.

Read more about Iran’s persecution of its Bahá’í minority.