Bahai News - Dedicating a holy place
Web posted Wednesday, May 23, 2001
Dedicating a holy place
Michael O'Neal, secretary of the Baha'i Community of
Savannah/Chatham County, watches a live telecast from Israel of the official
opening of the Terraces of the Shrine of the Bab at Savannah State University
--Stephen Berend/Savannah Morning News
Local members of the Baha'i Faith participate, via
satellite, in ceremonies opening the spiritual and administrative center of
By Ann Stifter
Savannah Morning News
Michael O'Neal rolled his swivel chair close to a TV and outstretched his
hands as if to say, "Behold."
Videos flashing in front of him showed how a 10-year, $250-million holy
terrace came to be.
A half hour later, when a live satellite broadcast started, O'Neal leaned
forward some more, intent on absorbing every aspect of a ceremony that
dedicated gardens built in Israel for his religion.
"Whew, isn't it exquisite," he said. "There is nothing like that on this
O'Neal sat among a small number of people who share his faith, a group
eclipsed by the thousands who sat at Tuesday's ceremony overseas. But the
local diversity was just as grand as the crowd an ocean away, a crowd from
200 countries who wore native attire -- some shielding their heads with
scarves, others showing off colored stripes painted across their faces.
As secretary of the Baha'i Community of Savannah/Chatham County, O'Neal sat
with a pediatrician born in India, a woman originally from the country of
Luxemburg and a high school freshman.
They applauded as cameras panned the verdant circles containing lamp posts
that resembled massive lilies-of-the valley and fountains backlit by orange
To Dr. Fariborz Zaer, the significance of the terraces stretched beyond the
physical. To him, they represented world unification.
He didn't see just pretty gardens, but beauty uniting all people.
"It's a symbol of a triumph of love over hatred," he said.
Zaer joined 10 other men and women and two teen-agers who met in the Savannah
State University Library to watch the live satellite feed from Israel.
They surrounded themselves with four large-screen TVs and raised volumes to
highlight the harps and French horns.
To Cecile Bigatin, the ceremony exemplified an attribute of her faith -- the
oneness of mankind and of religion.
"It's probably the most significant religious event in this century," said
Lynda Adamson. "It heralds a new beginning of world peace."
For 14-year-old Siobhain Rivera, a freshman at Savannah Arts Academy who is
surrounded by art and music at school and at home, the terraces and their
opening ceremony touched a deeper part.
"This is nothing short of divinely inspired," she said.
Faith reporter Ann Stifter may be reached at 652-0332.
About the Baha'i Faith
The religion was founded in Iran in the mid-19th century by Mirza Hoseyn
'Ali Nuri, known as Baha' Ullah (Arabic: "Glory of God"). The cornerstone of
Baha'i belief is the conviction that Baha' Ullah and his forerunner, known
as the Báb, were manifestations of God, who in his essence is
unknowable. The principal tenets are the unity of all religions and the
unity of humanity. Baha'is believe all founders of the world's great
religions have been manifestations of God and agents of a progressive divine
plan for the education of the human race. Despite their differences, the
world's great religions teach an identical truth, according to the Baha'is.
Baha' Ullah's function was to overcome the disunity of religions and
establish a universal faith. Baha'is believe in the oneness of humanity and
devote themselves to the abolition of racial, class and religious
prejudices. The bulk of Baha'i teachings is concerned with social ethics.
The faith has no priesthood and does not observe ritual forms of worship.
Membership in the Baha'i community is open to all who profess faith in
Baha' Ullah and accept his teachings. There are no initiation ceremonies,
no sacraments and no clergy. Every Baha'i, however, is under the spiritual
* pray daily.
* abstain totally from narcotics, alcohol or any substances that affect
* practice monogamy.
* obtain the consent of parents to marriage.
* attend the Nineteen Day Feast on the first day of each month of the
* If capable, those between the ages of 15 and 70 are required to fast
19 days a year, going without food or drink from sunrise to sunset.
The Nineteen Day Feast unites the Baha'is for prayer, reading of
scriptures, discussion of community activities and for the enjoyment of
each other's company. (Source: Britannica.com)
* The Báb -- ("the Gate"), one of the first two founders of the
Baha'i Faith. His remains are buried in the golden-domed shrine on Mount
Carmel, which was completed in 1953.
* Mount Carmel -- located in Haifa, Israel and known as "the mountain
of the Lord. "
* Terraces of the Shrine of the Bab -- dedicated on Tuesday with a live
satellite broadcast. The 19 terraces stretch a kilometer up Mount
Carmel. They represent Báb and his first 18 followers. The link of
nine concentric gardens radiate from opposite sides of the shrine. During
construction, workers had to lower and move busy avenues. The project took
10 years and cost $250 million, funded by voluntary contributions from
members of the worldwide Baha'i community, which has more than 5 million
members. Two new administrative buildings were also completed.
* The Baha'i Community of Savannah/Chatham County has about 60 members.
It's center at 2416 Waters Ave. is under renovation. (Source: Baha'i
World Centre, Haifa, Israel; Michael O'Neal)
©Copyright 2001, Savannah Morning News
Page last updated/revised 052601
Return to the Bahá'í Association's Main Web Page