Bahai News - Hutch woman makes trek to holy place

Hutch woman makes trek to holy place

By Joyce Hall

A spiritual journey to a holy place in Israel fulfilled a dream for a Hutchinson woman Shirley Gitchell Johnson recently returned from a pilgrimage to Mount Carmel in Haifa, where one of the most important holy places for Baha'is was completed in 1953.

The trip was similar to one Gitchell Johnson made 25 years ago but was made special because she has become a cancer survivor in the interim.

"I didn't expect to be there, but they caught the cancer early," she said.

Gitchell Johnson traveled alone to Israel where she joined 144 other Bahai's from all over the world.

She was especially excited because her group was the last pilgrimage allowed until May 22, when a special celebration takes place.

The Baha'is will open a series of majestic garden terraces on Mount Carmel, demonstrating their commitment to world peace.

At the heart of the terraces is the gold-domed Shrine of the Bab, who was the forerunner of the Bahai law. The 19 terraces are rich in symbolism with nine terraces below the shrine and nine above, representing Bab and his 18 followers, Gitchell Johnson said.

The terraces, she said, are connected to a series of classically designed buildings that make up the Ark.

The Ark includes the Universal House of Justice, the International Teaching Centre, the Centre for the Study of the Texts, the International Archives Building and the International Bahai Library.

"The writings and teachings of the Bab are for the world," Gitchell Johnson said. "They bring unity and peace to the world."

Bab was martyred in 1850 in Iran for his teachings. For almost 60 years, his remains were secretly transferred to different places so they would not fall into the hands of enemies.

"The Baha'is are still persecuted to this day in Iran," Gitchell Johnson said.

Bahaullah, the founder of the Baha'i faith, was exiled from Iran to the Ottoman penal colony of Acre in 1868 and died in 1892. His son, Abdul-Baha, took over as guardian of faith, Gitchell Johnson said, and died in 1921.

Bahaullah teaches that there is only one God, which is why Gitchell Johnson converted to the Baha'i faith when she was 24.

Local Baha'i council

The Baha'i community governs itself by elected councils.

"There are no clergy in the Baha'i faith," said Phil Wood, who serves as the secretary for the Hutchinson Baha'i community.

Wood first visited Haifa in 1969. The only building there at the time was the administration building. In 1973, he returned as a delegate to the international convention.

The Hutchinson Baha'i community rents space in the Whiteside Building on Main Street for worship on Sunday and public meetings during the week.

"We have a simple service, reading out of prayer books," Wood said. "Sometimes we read communications from the national assembly."

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