* Members of the St. Charles and St. Charles County Baha'is plan a program Wednesday at the library.

Picture it if you can - 19 terraces climbing upward from a bustling city street to a mountain summit. A golden-domed shrine sits at the halfway point. The main path is bordered with landscaped gardens planted with trees and wildflowers indigenous to the area. The gardens are adorned with ornate iron gates, elegant planters and fountains. The natural elements of light and water form the main decoration. Mirror-like surfaces reflect the rays of the sun in myriad shades of color. At the top the sounds of flowing water and singing birds silence honking horns and screaming sirens from below.

The place is the Baha'i Shrine and Gardens on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel. The 19 terraced gardens took 10 years to build. Members of the Baha'is faith, including 65 in St. Charles County, are proud that the funding of the gardens came strictly from the pockets of Baha'i members.

The Baha'i Shrine and Gardens on Mount Carmel will be opened formally on Wednesday, Middle Eastern time. The occasion will be televised and broadcast worldwide via satellite. Members of the St. Charles and St. Charles County Baha'is will celebrate the opening with a program at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Kathryn Linnemann Library at Elm Street and South Duchesne Drive in St. Charles. The program will include readings, music and talks by those who have visited the shrine and gardens in Haifa.

The Baha'i religion is an independent faith. Its followers believe in one God, one human race and that all of the world's religions have been stages in the revelation of God's purpose for humankind. Baha'is follow the teachings of Bahu'u'llah, (1817-1892). He is regarded by Baha'is as the most recent in the line of messengers of God that stretch back beyond recorded time. Others include Buddha, Mohammed, Moses, Krishna and Jesus Christ. Like the followers of other major religions, Baha'is come from every nation, ethnic group and culture. Cate Vance of St. Peters is a member of the Baha'i faith. Cate and Ding Vance's 22-year-old daughter Jennifer Vance works in the office of the treasurer at the World Center of the Baha'i Faith on Mount Carmel. According to Vance, all Baha'i youth are encouraged to serve the faith in a volunteer capacity for at least a year.

The Vances visited Jennifer in Haifa last August. Cate brought back a colorful booklet that pictured the gardens. It named the architect as Fariburz Sahba, whose design of the Baha'i House of Worship in India (known as the Lotus Temple) has won international acclaim.

Haifa is the capital of the North of Israel. The mountain city by the sea is situated on a broad natural harbor with a wide strip of sandy beaches along the waterfront. Vance explained that the base of Mount Carmel starts at Ben Gurion Street. The street runs directly from the entrance of the terraces to the sea. The city of Haifa moved and lowered the street, according to Vance, so that it would line up with the terraces.

"They recognize that this is not only a spiritual center but a wonderful tourist attraction," she said. Vance described the mountain terraces as rocky, steep and aesthetically perfect. "Each terrace has a set of fountains, benches and gardens and although each has similarities they are all different," she said. "The stonework is so impressive that you can stand in front of it for long periods of time and not see it. Water cascades down the side of each set of stairs and recycles back up."

Vance described her feelings as she stood on the 18th terrace. "There is no noise but for the singing of birds. The fragrance of the flowers and the incredible view of the Mediterranean is indescribably relaxing," she said.

The Baha'i World Center administrative complex is constructed in a neoclassical style in a semicircular arc on Mount Carmel. It includes a Universal House of Justice, archives and a library and educational center.

Attendance at the ceremony on Wednesday in Haifa is by invitation only, Vance explained. Jennifer Vance will mingle with guests from around the world. "She will experience a moment in history that will never be repeated, " Vance said. "This is our spiritual gift to the world and a way for people to realize that we are all one."

   Shrine Opening
   What: Formal opening of the Baha'i Shrine and Gardens on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel.
   When: Wednesday in Haifa.
   Who: Built by the Baha'is - followers of the teachings of Baha'u'llah (1817-1892).
   Local event: The Baha'is of St. Charles County will have a program to commemorate the completion of the Shrine and Gardens.
   When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
   Where: Kathryn Linnemann Library, Elm Street and South Duchesne Drive, St. Charles.
   Information: 636-940-9246.

Note: Jennifer Vance will speak at 7:30 p.m. June 7 at a meeting of the St. Charles County Women's Interfaith Alliance at Grace United Church of Christ, 8326 Mexico Road, St. Peters.

©Copyright 2001, The St. Charles County Post

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