Bahai News - Baha'i believer revisits her faith and labors of the past

Baha'i believer revisits her faith and labors of the past

Jacqueline Ralya is headed to Israel to celebrate her religion

By Mary Adamski

Nineteen Hawaii members of the Baha'i faith are among the crowd of more than 4,000 people in Haifa, Israel, to attend festivities opening a major monument to their religion on Mount Carmel.

The $250 million monument, 10 years in the making, will be opened Tuesday. It consists of 19 terraces of lavish gardens extending 3,200 feet along the formerly barren slope. The greenery surrounds the golden-domed burial place and shrine of a mid-19th century Persian, known as the Bab, whose teaching laid the groundwork for that of Baha'i founder Baha'u'llah.

Jacqueline Ralya of Kapolei will be among the believers reveling in the religious experience. The island horticulturist will also likely be looking at plant roots to check how they are growing and if they are getting enough water.

Ralya gave four volunteer years of her expertise to the project, working from 1994 to 1998 until "I kind of wore my knees out, that's why I came home," said Ralya. She works as a private contractor in the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Kaulunani Project, which provides assistance for residents' associations and other groups to plant and maintain trees.

"I was brought there to write a manual for the maintenance of the gardens, document the history and oversee the head gardeners," she said. "My job was to be sure it was planted correctly and in the older gardens, to preserve them as they were before 1957 so that people who went there 20 years ago should be able to see same thing."

The project involved transplanting decades-old olive trees and returning them to the site after the terraces were contoured, she said. Planting will continue, with flower beds to be kept current with new plants at different seasons of the year.

"I'm anxious to see what I renovated, has it been taken care of, has my five-year plan been followed," she said. "When I see the pictures, I say 'wow, we put that cactus in!'"

It's the new orange trees that strike a chord in her as an arborist as well as a Baha'i believer. "The Bab had an orange tree in his courtyard. Pilgrims would be given oranges; a lot kept them rather than eat them," she said. When planning got under way for the terraces "Baha'i began sending back the mummified oranges from all over the world. Those seeds were viable and they have put those orange trees back in the Bab's garden."

The original tree was destroyed by the government of Persia -- now Iran -- and the Bab was executed in July 1850. The liberal, progressive religion is still persecuted by fundamentalist Muslims there.

The Baha'i faith teaches that God is one and all religions are true and agree in essential beliefs. Baha'u'llah taught the need of a world without borders and equality of the sexes. Exiled by the Persians and imprisoned by the Ottoman Turks in what is now Israel, Baha'u'llah is buried in nearby Acre which, with Haifa, is headquarters of the international religion.

There are now about 5 million Baha'i believers in the world. The 1,000 members in Hawaii are celebrating their centennial year here.

Members in Hawaii will have the opportunity to watch the opening of the Mount Carmel Terraces on public access cable television. It will be broadcast Tuesday from 5 to 7 a.m. on Channel 52, and at 9 p.m. on Channel 53.

Ralya said she bought a muumuu to wear for the occasion and will seek out a florist to buy the makings of a haku head lei to wear to the floral festival. "My mind is already there. I will be happy to see the people I worked with. I plan to walk up and down the steps, over 1,000 steps, each day."

©Copyright 2001, Honolulu Star-Bletin

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