Bahai News - The Baha'is - regular visitors to Waterford
VIEWS FROM THE BRASSCOCK
The Baha'is - regular visitors to Waterford
For almost 30 years now the Baha'is have been coming to Waterford to hold
their annual summer camp at Newtown School. The gathering is a hugely
anticipated one in their calendar among their faithful, adults and children
alike. They come to Waterford from all points of Ireland which now has 21
Local Spiritual Assemblies around which they organise their religious,
social and family lives.
But their number frequently includes members of their faith from around the
globe. Among the 400 at this year's gathering are visitors from the U.K.,
New Zealand, Israel, the U.S., Canada, Poland, The Czech Republic and others
who would constitute about 25% this year, the balance of 75% being Irish.
They have always found Newtown and the people of Waterford generally most
hospitable and welcoming which has encouraged them to return here year after
year over such a long time.
But who are they?
Even though they have a Spiritual Assembly in Waterford, most local people
would only become aware of their existence and in a transient way as they
pass Newtown School for a few weeks each summer. So it occurred to me that I
should inquire further by meeting with some of their number to learn
something of the origins and tenets of the Baha'i faith. I met and spoke
with Ann O'Sullivan, a warm, intelligent and lovely Limerick woman who
clearly loves coming to Waterford for this annual camp. Not that I would
have expected it but there was nothing of the zealot but rather an aura of
serenity born out of a sense of loyalty and intelligent commitment to her
faith which is central to her life and family. I got this sense of positive
energy mixed with a friendly atmosphere among the folk gathered here at this
camp as I walked about.
Normal family groups on holiday but with a purpose which is built around a
programme of devotional periods, classes, talks, workshops and the very
popular meditation sessions and, of course, times to relax, play and pray as
they regard any positive activity done well as a form of prayer.
But from whence did the Baha 'i faith come, a faith that claims over 5
million followers and is established in almost every country and dependent
territory in the world with more than 120,000 localities, surpassing every
religion but Christianity in its geographic reach? Until I took time out to
read some of their literature I was blindly unaware of their extent and
unity of purpose. Their belief of unity in diversity is at the very core of
their faith. This was a journey of discovery for me to satisfy my curiosity
and perhaps of my readers. I learned that they have their origins in Iran in
1844 with a background in Islam though it has grown to be a definite
independent religion just as Christianity grew from the Judean tradition. I
am not a scholar of world religions but I understand that in the mid 19
century there was a widespread expectation among religious scholars of a
"coming" of a manifestation of the Divine i.e. a new and independent
Messenger from God in succession to Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster,
Buddha, Christ and Muhammad.
The Bahai's believe that this came as a twin manifestation, firstly The Bab
- analogous to John the Baptist as a precursor to Jesus Christ. This was to
be a short ministry of nine years during which time he experienced
imprisonment. Among those who were attracted by the new teaching, and
despite the reality of persecution and deprivation, was a Persian nobleman
named Baha'u'llah (pronounced Ba-howl-la) meaning Glory of God. In 1863, he
declared himself to be the One who was promised, a Divine Messenger.
The Islamic rulers of Iran didn't take kindly to these claims and talk of
unity and equality and so the new leader was much imprisoned and the growing
flock of believers were persecuted as they are to this very day in their
founding country of Iran. The story of persecution is a familiar one when a
movement emerges which is perceived as a threat to an established authority.
The earth is but one country
That the earth is but one country and mankind its citizens is the message on
the Baha'is summer camp poster at the gates of the school and, from what I
have read, seems central to their philosophy which indeed seems a worthy
ideal. They believe that through historical processes the traditional
barriers of race, class, creed and nation have steadily broken down and will
eventually give birth to a universal civilization.
From where I'm standing we still have a long, long way to go to achieve
anything like that ideal but at least, as they say, there is a nobility in
the striving. They also place great emphasis on the elimination of all forms
of prejudice, full equality between the sexes, elimination of extremes of
poverty and wealth, universal education, the harmony of science and religion,
a sustainable balance between nature and technology and, furthermore and
critically, the essential oneness of the world's great religions.
All this is very positive and seems relevant in our modern world that has
been riven by sectional and national conflicts driven by tribalism and
racism. Their message seems to be a very positive one rather than negative,
inclusive rather than exclusive, unity as opposed to divisions. Sounds good
to me as an observer looking in and the world can only benefit from their
benign beliefs and commitment.
Incidentally, a George Townsend, a Church of Ireland clergyman in Galway
and later Dean of St. Patrick's, Dublin, first brought the ideas of the
Baha is faith to Ireland in 1901. The movement was well established by
the 1950's and today number well in excess of 600. I hope I have not
been "too heavy" this week but, as they say, knowledge is no load and it
is a good thing to deal with others with amity and consort with
affection. We all gain in the end.
Fa ilte romhaibh, ar ais.
©Copyright 2001, Munster Express (Ireland)
Page last updated/revised 082601
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