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– 12 –

Riḍván 1996

To the Followers of Bahá’u’lláh in Western and Central Asia

Dearly loved Friends,

As a turbulent yet luminous century draws to a close, the Bahá’í community is embarking on another campaign in the progressive unfoldment of the Divine Plan. The global enterprises thus far executed by the consecrated adherents of His Cause have systematically spread the light of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation to every corner of the earth and have firmly established the institutions of His Administrative Order. The Four Year Plan, whose primary aim is to effect a significant advance in the process of entry by troops, is being launched at a time when the Cause of God has emerged from obscurity, when its contributions to society are being increasingly acknowledged, and when humanity’s prolonged and continuous suffering has created an atmosphere of search for spiritual values and has raised the level of receptivity to the Cause.

We call upon our much-loved coworkers in the western and central parts of the Asiatic continent, the home of the oldest and most venerable Bahá’í communities, to rally round their divinely ordained institutions and to arise during these years to demonstrate once again the devotion, valor and determination which have already conferred matchless distinction upon them. You have the honor of serving the Faith in a region above whose horizon the dawn of the Great Day of the Lord appeared, in whose bosom the infant Cause of God was nurtured, on whose soil so much sacred blood was shed, on whose western shores the Qiblih of the people of Bahá is established, within whose embrace the first Mashriqu’l-Adhkár was raised, and from which hosts of devoted and committed Bahá’ís have, in the past decades, set out to bear the banner of the Faith to every part of the globe.

Our thoughts turn first to the community of Bahá’u’lláh’s lovers in the land where His Faith was born. Although they are still denied the freedom to resume direct participation in the series of campaigns by which the Cause is steadily advancing throughout the world, their achievements constitute irrefutable proof of the creative power of the daily sacrifices they are making for the vindication of the Faith. What is becoming apparent, as this new global Plan opens, is that the build-up of spiritual strength within the Iranian Bahá’í community—purified by suffering and steeled by adversity—represents a reservoir of energy that will, in God’s good time, bring incalculable benefits to the Cause. “Say: The springs that sustain the life of these birds are not of this world. Their source is far above the reach and ken of human apprehension.”

In the lands to the south and west of Iran, Bahá’ís live under restrictions which prevent them from teaching the Cause to their fellow-countrymen. Yet, by the outstanding contributions they have made to the progress of the Faith in other parts of the world, they have proved that their enthusiasm to spread the Divine Message cannot be dampened. It has been particularly heartening to witness the eagerness and rapidity with which, as soon as the barriers to teaching in the republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus were removed, they rushed to the aid of the small bands of believers who had persevered there for so many decades and helped them to build the vibrant communities now flourishing in these regions today. No doubt they will continue to lend valuable assistance to the communities in Central Asia and the Caucasus during the Four Year Plan.

In these republics, through the combined efforts of native and visiting teachers, extraordinary advances can be expected. A pattern for the rapid growth of the Cause has already been established in the region: locality after locality has been opened to the Faith and, because of the high receptivity of the people, the number of believers in each place has quickly risen, resulting in the election of a Spiritual Assembly to guide the affairs of the nascent community. Integral to this pattern, almost from the very outset, has been the holding of regular institute courses, which have assisted the friends in becoming strong promoters of the Cause. If the expansion and consolidation activities are vigorously pursued according to this same pattern in the coming years, the growth of the Faith will accelerate, greatly increasing the number of believers and centers.

To effect such accelerated growth, the friends in these countries must become so deepened in their understanding of the Faith as to take up, on their own initiative, the torch of guidance that will enlighten the multitudes. They should not be content with small communities, nor allow the tasks of administering their own community affairs to divert them from the essential purpose of bringing new members into their ranks. Each community, from the earliest phases of its development, should be fired by a vision of the glory of the Cause and imbued with the zeal to achieve rapid and sustained expansion both in the locality itself and in the nearby towns and villages.

In Pakistan, where a well-grounded community traces its roots back some hundred years, the friends must make a mighty effort to increase their numbers significantly among people of every walk of life. The will and determination needed to sustain large-scale expansion and consolidation can be created through a consistent and widespread institute program aimed at exposing growing contingents of believers to the Creative Word, thus enhancing their spiritual capacities to diffuse the light of the Faith and to further the development of its institutions. Such a rapid process of growth requires that more and more women be enabled to move to the forefront of Bahá’í activity, in both the teaching and administrative fields. While rising to the challenge of entry by troops in their homeland, the friends in Pakistan need also to pay special attention to their long-suffering Afghan neighbors, who cry out for the Healing Message of Bahá’u’lláh, the one true balm for their afflictions.

In all your countries, you must continue to give the highest priority to the education of children. Having seen the effects of the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh on generation after generation, you well understand the value of Bahá’í education and of a proper spiritual upbringing. In those areas where activities are restricted, you are nevertheless able to teach the children of your own communities and help them to grow to become pillars of strength. In other areas, you have the possibility, nay the obligation, to open your classes to children of non-Bahá’í families and to become known as the educators of the coming generations of your peoples.

Dear Friends, the time is short, and weighty responsibilities have been placed on the shoulders of each and every Bahá’í. In His Most Holy Book, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, the Blessed Beauty states:

Verily, We behold you from Our realm of glory, and will aid whosoever will arise for the triumph of Our Cause with the hosts of the Concourse on high and a company of Our favored angels.

Be confident that your dedicated services will, like a magnet, attract the promised confirmations and that your hearts will be gladdened as you witness the successive triumphs of the Cause you hold so dear. We shall remember all of you in our prayers in the Holy Shrines and shall beseech Bahá’u’lláh to guide and assist you, as you face the many challenges of these spiritually potent closing years of the century.

The Universal House of Justice

– 13 –

Riḍván 1997

To the Bahá’ís of the World

Dearly loved Friends,

We acclaim with grateful hearts the eager response on all continents to the Four Year Plan launched last Riḍván.

Consultations of the Continental Counsellors and National Spiritual Assemblies started an extensive planning process, also involving Auxiliary Board members and Local Spiritual Assemblies. Through such a process the national and regional character of the derivative plans took shape. But this world-encompassing exercise did more than yield distinctive schemes for the different countries; it also boosted the collaborative relationship of the two arms of the Administrative Order, a most welcome portent of the victories yet to come.

A sign of the immediate impact of the Plan was the speed with which steps were taken to establish nearly two hundred training institutes during the last twelve months. Many of these have gone far beyond the point of designing their organization; they are actually in operation and have offered their first courses. Moreover, in the movement of homefront and international pioneers and traveling teachers; in the increased attention given by individuals to deputizing teachers; in the preparations made to ensure the formation of Local Spiritual Assemblies only on the first day of Riḍván; in the increasing endeavors to hold regular devotional meetings; in the widening efforts to make use of the arts in the teaching work and community activities—in all these respects could be discerned the friends’ keen awareness of the importance of concentrating on the requirements of the major aim of the Plan, which is to effect a significant advance in the process of entry by troops.

Nor can we neglect to recognize other developments during the past year which confirmed the high merit of the manifold efforts being exerted by our world community and the results being achieved. Among these, to mention a few, were: the acquisition of the apartment at 4 Avenue de Camoëns in Paris where the beloved Master, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, resided during His historic visit to the city; the special session on 14 August of the Federal Chamber of Deputies in Brazil to mark the 75th anniversary of the introduction of the Bahá’í Faith into that country—a unique, official occasion at which Amatu’l-Bahá Rúḥíyyih Khánum was present as the honored guest; the launching last July of the Bahá’í International Community’s site on the World Wide Web, entitled “The Bahá’í World,” which to date has received from more than 90 countries and territories over 50,000 visits, averaging some 200 per day.

Hardly outpaced by such accomplishments, the construction projects on Mount Carmel maintained a dazzling momentum highlighted by the completion of the marble colonnade of the Centre for the Study of the Texts, by the rise of the International Teaching Centre building towards its seventh level, and by the ongoing emergence of the far-stretching features of the Terraces of the Shrine of the Báb. In this connection must be mentioned the partial lowering of the section of the public road over which the line of terraces will pass, and the acquisition and subsequent demolition of the building at the foot of the mountain which stood as the last obstruction that had to be overcome to make possible the completion of the lower terraces through which the glorious pathway rises up towards the sacred Edifice and beyond it to the crest of the Hill of God.

Also of acute relevance to the progress thus described was the maintenance of a level of contributions to the Arc Projects Fund which fulfilled the goal for the last year. Clearly, the financial demands in this regard are being met with incessant heroism by rich and poor alike, and must be sustained over the remaining years. At the same time, however, a parallel effort, equally strenuous and sustained, should be simultaneously exerted by the Assemblies and friends throughout the world to fill the critical needs of the Bahá’í International Fund.

Such an auspicious beginning to the Four Year Plan as has been experienced cannot but inspire confidence in the hearts of the members of our worldwide community that they are fully equipped to execute its requirements as outlined in the messages that launched it, and as elaborated in the plans adopted by their respective Assemblies. A further and especially appreciated encouragement as we enter this second year is that circumstances have made it feasible for the reestablishment this Riḍván of the National Spiritual Assembly of Rwanda. This victory over crisis will bring to 175 the number of National Spiritual Assemblies that will be eligible to participate in the Eighth International Bahá’í Convention to be held next Riḍván at the Bahá’í World Centre. How dearly we hope that by then, at the very midpoint of the Plan, the Bahá’í world will have made a major leap forward in the multiplication of its human resources, the maturation of its Spiritual Assemblies, and the evolution of its local communities!

The opportunity offered by the brief span of time before the century ends is precious beyond all telling. Only a united and sustained effort by the friends everywhere to advance the process of entry by troops can befit such a historic moment. Responsibilities urgent and inescapable press upon every institution, every member of a community striving towards its God-promised destiny. As there is only a short period in which to achieve a great deal, no time must be spared, no opportunity lost. Rest assured, dear friends, that the hosts of the Abhá Kingdom stand ready to rush to the support of anyone who will arise to offer his or her acts of service to the unfolding, spiritual drama of these momentous days.

The Universal House of Justice

– 14 –

30 May 1997

To National Spiritual Assemblies

Dear Bahá’í Friends,

The expansion of the Bahá’í community and the growing complexity of the issues which are facing National Spiritual Assemblies in certain countries have brought the Cause to a new stage in its development. They have caused us in recent years to examine various aspects of the balance between centralization and decentralization. In a few countries we have authorized the National Spiritual Assemblies to establish State Bahá’í Councils or Regional Teaching and Administrative Committees. From the experience gained in the operation of these bodies, and from detailed examination of the principles set forth by Shoghi Effendi, we have reached the conclusion that the time has arrived for us to formalize a new element of Bahá’í administration, between the local and national levels, comprising institutions of a special kind, to be designated as “Regional Bahá’í Councils.”

Regional Bahá’í Councils will be brought into being only with our permission and only in countries where conditions make this step necessary. Nevertheless, we find it desirable to inform all National Spiritual Assemblies of the nature of this historic development, and to make clear its place in the evolution of national and local Bahá’í institutions.

The institutions of the Administrative Order of Bahá’u’lláh, rooted in the provisions of His Revelation, have emerged gradually and organically, as the Bahá’í community has grown through the power of the divine impulse imparted to humankind in this age. The characteristics and functions of each of these institutions have evolved, and are still evolving, as are the relationships between them. The writings of the beloved Guardian expound the fundamental elements of this mighty System and make it clear that the Administrative Order, although different in many ways from the World Order which it is the destiny of the Bahá’í Revelation to call into being, is both the “nucleus” and “pattern” of that World Order. Thus, the evolution of the institutions of the Administrative Order, while following many variants to meet changing conditions in different times and places, should strictly follow the essential principles of Bahá’í administration which have been laid down in the Sacred Text and in the interpretations provided by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the Guardian.

One of the subtle qualities of the Bahá’í Administrative Order is the balance between centralization and decentralization. This balance must be correctly maintained, but different factors enter into the equation, depending upon the institutions involved. For example, the relationship between a National or Local Spiritual Assembly and its committees is of a different nature from that between National and Local Spiritual Assemblies. The former is a relationship between a central administrative body and “its assisting organs of executive and legislative action,”1 while the latter is a relationship between national and local levels of the House of Justice, each of which is a divinely ordained institution with clearly prescribed jurisdiction, duties and prerogatives.

Regional Bahá’í Councils partake of some, but not all, characteristics of Spiritual Assemblies, and thus provide a means of carrying forward the teaching work and administering related affairs of a rapidly growing Bahá’í community in a number of situations. Without such an institution, the development of a national committee structure required to cover the needs in some countries would run the danger of over-complexity through adding a further layer of committees under the regional committees, or the danger of excessive decentralization through conferring too much autonomy on committees which are characterized by the Guardian as “bodies that should be regarded in no other light than that of expert advisers and executive assistants.”

The distinguishing effects of the establishment of Regional Bahá’í Councils are the following:

  • It provides for a level of autonomous decision making on both teaching and administrative matters, as distinct from merely executive action, below the National Assembly and above the Local Assemblies.

  • It involves the members of Local Spiritual Assemblies of the area in the choice of the members of the Council, thus reinforcing the bond between it and the local believers while, at the same time, bringing into public service capable believers who are known to the friends in their own region.

  • It establishes direct consultative relationships between the Continental Counsellors and the Regional Bahá’í Councils.

  • It offers the possibility of forming a Regional Bahá’í Council in an ethnically distinct region which covers parts of two or more countries. In such a situation the Council is designated to work directly under one of the National Assemblies involved, providing copies of its reports and minutes to the other National Assembly.

  • The greater degree of decentralization involved in the devolution of authority upon Regional Bahá’í Councils requires a corresponding increase in the capacity of the National Spiritual Assembly itself to keep fully informed of what is proceeding in all parts of the territory over which it has ultimate jurisdiction.

For those National Spiritual Assemblies which have already established Regional Bahá’í Councils or Regional Teaching and Administrative Committees, we enclose a document which outlines the various policies governing the formation and functioning of Regional Bahá’í Councils. For the sake of simplicity, we have used the designation “Regional Bahá’í Councils” throughout, but the actual name used will, as heretofore, vary from country to country, including such names as “State Bahá’í Councils,” “Provincial Bahá’í Councils” or, when referring to an individual Council, “The Bahá’í Council for…,” etc. To avoid the confusion of thought which seems to have been caused by referring to “Regional Teaching and Administrative Committees,” we have decided to cease using this designation and to refer to these bodies as Bahá’í Councils formed by appointment rather than election. We shall be writing separately to these National Spiritual Assemblies, indicating what modifications, if any, they should now make to the existing structures.

It is our ardent prayer at the Sacred Threshold, that the establishment of Regional Bahá’í Councils will greatly enhance the ability of the Administrative Order to deal with the complex situations with which it is confronted in a number of countries at the present time, and thus carry forward, with increased vigor, the propagation of the Cause of God.

The Universal House of Justice

30 MAY 1997

The establishment of Regional Bahá’í Councils in certain countries, their characteristics and functions

  1. 1 The Formation of Regional Bahá’í Councils:

    1. 1.1 Authority for the formation of Regional Bahá’í Councils: The formation of Regional Bahá’í Councils in any country, and the choice of the regions to be assigned to them are dependent upon the approval of the Universal House of Justice in each case.

    2. 1.2 Conditions indicating a need for the formation of Regional Bahá’í Councils: Regional Bahá’í Councils will be formed only in certain specific situations where this kind of decentralization is judged by the Universal House of Justice to be appropriate.

  2. 2 The Characteristic Features of Regional Bahá’í Councils:

    1. 2.1 Mode of Establishment and Membership:

      1. 2.1.1 Regional Bahá’í Councils are not necessarily established universally throughout a country, but rather in those regions where the condition and size of the Bahá’í community indicate that such a development would be beneficial. In such cases, all other parts of the country remain under the well-established pattern of national committees, including a national teaching committee and its regional teaching committees.

      2. 2.1.2 The number of members of a Regional Bahá’í Council is nine or, in certain cases, seven or even five, depending upon the decision of the National Spiritual Assembly in each case.

      3. 2.1.3 In accordance with local requirements and the condition of the Bahá’í community, the Universal House of Justice will decide which Regional Bahá’í Councils are to be formed by election and which by appointment.

      4. 2.1.4 It is within the discretion of the National Spiritual Assembly to decide, case by case, whether its members may also serve on Regional Bahá’í Councils. In general the preference is for members of National Assemblies not to serve on Councils, whether these be elected or appointed bodies.

    2. 2.2 Regional Bahá’í Councils formed by election:

      1. 2.2.1 The members of an elected Regional Bahá’í Council, who shall be nine in number, are elected from among all the adult believers in the region by the members of the Local Spiritual Assemblies in that region every year on 23 May, the anniversary of the Declaration of the Báb according to the Gregorian calendar, or on a weekend immediately before or after that date.

      2. 2.2.2 Owing to the large number of voters involved and the brief interval between the National Convention and the elections of the Regional Bahá’í Councils, these elections are to be conducted primarily by mail, through methods to be decided by the National Spiritual Assembly. The voting is to be by secret ballot. The members of the Local Spiritual Assemblies may send in their ballots individually or they may be collected by the Secretary of the Local Spiritual Assembly and mailed together.

      3. 2.2.3 If feasible and desirable, an electoral meeting, or several electoral meetings, may be held in the region for those voters able to attend, in order to provide an occasion for members of Local Spiritual Assemblies in the region to consult about the progress of the Cause. Other believers may attend, but would not take part in the voting.

      4. 2.2.4 If there is a tie vote, the tie is to be broken by lot, in view of the impracticability of holding a revote in such a situation.

      5. 2.2.5 Any vacancy on a Regional Bahá’í Council should be filled by the person who had the next highest number of votes on the ballot in the preceding election.

      6. 2.2.6 Auxiliary Board members are not eligible for service on a Regional Bahá’í Council.

      7. 2.2.7 The result of the election is to be confirmed by the National Spiritual Assembly.

    3. 2.3 Regional Bahá’í Councils formed by appointment:

      1. 2.3.1 It is left to the National Spiritual Assembly to decide whether the number of members is to be five, seven or nine.

      2. 2.3.2 Balloting takes place among members of Local Spiritual Assemblies in the region, similarly to that for the election of a Regional Bahá’í Council, but the outcome of the voting constitutes a confidential list of nominations for the National Spiritual Assembly, which appoints the members of the Council from among these nominees and others, including persons proposed by the members of the Auxiliary Boards within whose areas of responsibility the region lies.

  3. 3 The Functions of Regional Bahá’í Councils:

    The functions of a Regional Bahá’í Council and the degree of authority conferred upon it are within the discretion of a National Spiritual Assembly. However, they should not be limited to those of a national or regional committee for, in such a case, there would be no justification for bringing into being a Regional Bahá’í Council rather than appointing a national or regional committee. The functions and responsibilities generally envisaged for a Regional Bahá’í Council are as follows:

    1. 3.1 To carry out the policies of the National Spiritual Assembly and to supervise, on behalf of the National Assembly, the smooth and efficient execution of the plans and projects for its region.

    2. 3.2 To keep the National Spiritual Assembly regularly informed of the Council’s activities and of the conditions of the Faith throughout the region. Regional Bahá’í Councils are allowed to develop their own strategies and programs, and to carry out their day-to-day work without having to obtain further approval from the National Spiritual Assembly. However, through their frequent reports and the minutes of their meetings, the National Assembly is kept informed of their activities and maintains its overall supervision of the affairs of the Cause in all parts of the country.

    3. 3.3 To take initiative in the promotion of the Faith in the region and to carry out its decisions within the range of authority vested in it by the National Assembly. The National Assembly allows the Council a wide latitude for autonomous action, intervening in its work only in matters which the Assembly regards as being of major importance. The main task of a Regional Bahá’í Council is to devise and execute expansion and consolidation plans in close collaboration with the Local Spiritual Assemblies and the believers within its area of jurisdiction. Its goal is to create strong Local Spiritual Assemblies which will be the focal centers of Bahá’í activity, will exercise their vitally important role in the development of the Faith and will demonstrate their ability to regulate the affairs of their local communities.

    4. 3.4 To deal with both teaching and administrative matters within the region including the appointment of committees for issues within its terms of reference, such as external affairs and the translation, publication and distribution of Bahá’í literature.

      1. 3.4.1 In the area of teaching, a Regional Bahá’í Council may be given authority by the National Assembly to appoint, direct and supervise the work of a number of area or district teaching committees. In those cases where a Regional Bahá’í Council has to carry out a wide range of functions, it may also be authorized by the National Spiritual Assembly to appoint a regional teaching committee to be responsible to it for the teaching work in the region as a whole and for the direction and supervision of the area or district teaching committees.

      2. 3.4.2 A Regional Bahá’í Council may be asked by the National Spiritual Assembly to arrange and supervise the unit elections for delegates to the national convention.

      3. 3.4.3 The working relationship between the Local Spiritual Assemblies and the National Spiritual Assembly in an area where there is a Regional Bahá’í Council will depend upon the range of functions and responsibilities conferred by the National Assembly upon the Council. In any case the authority to deprive a believer of his or her administrative rights, or to restore them, remains with the National Assembly. The right of direct access to the National Assembly by a Local Spiritual Assembly is preserved.

    5. 3.5 To be responsible, under the general guidelines and policies established by the National Spiritual Assembly, for conducting, on behalf of the National Assembly, the external affairs of the Faith at the level of the region, representing the Bahá’ís of the region in relation to the civil authorities of that region.

    6. 3.6 To take part, under the guidance of the National Spiritual Assembly and in consultation with the Counselors or their deputies, in the formulation of a plan for its region as part of the national plan within the framework of each worldwide Plan.

    7. 3.7 To devise, for the approval of the National Assembly, its own expansion and consolidation programs for the achievement of the plan for its region, within the overall framework of the national plan.

    8. 3.8 To formulate an annual budget for the region, in consultation with the Counselors or their deputies when advisable, and to submit this budget to the National Spiritual Assembly for its approval.

      1. 3.8.1 Alternatively, should the conditions indicate the advisability of such a method, the annual budgets of Regional Bahá’í Councils may be specified by the National Spiritual Assembly.

    9. 3.9 To administer the budget for the region, sending regular reports and financial statements to the National Spiritual Assembly.

    10. 3.10 A Regional Bahá’í Council can be authorized by the National Spiritual Assembly to act as its agent in operating a regional branch of the national Bahá’í fund. In this respect the Council may perform the following functions.

      1. 3.10.1 It encourages believers within its region to contribute to various funds of the Cause, including the regional branch of the national fund, with the aim that, in due course, the entire expenditure for the region would be provided by the believers in the region.

      2. 3.10.2 If the whole of the budgeted expenditure for a year cannot be met by contributions from the believers in the region, the Council may apply to the National Spiritual Assembly for an allocation from the national Bahá’í fund.

      3. 3.10.3 It is also within the discretion of the Counselors to allocate financial assistance to a Regional Bahá’í Council from the funds at their disposition.

    11. 3.11 Under normal conditions, correspondence between Regional Bahá’í Councils and the Bahá’í World Center should be addressed to the National Spiritual Assembly, which would then convey the communication to its intended recipient.

      1. 3.11.1 If, because of local conditions, the Universal House of Justice authorizes certain Regional Bahá’í Councils to correspond directly with it, copies of all such correspondence should be sent to the National Assembly.

      2. 3.11.2 Copies of the Bahá’í International News Service and of certain circular letters may be mailed from the Bahá’í World Center directly to all Regional Bahá’í Councils.

      3. 3.11.3 When Regional Bahá’í Councils publish Bahá’í literature or regional newsletters, copies of such publications should be sent directly to the Bahá’í World Center under the same guidelines as apply to national Bahá’í publications.

      4. 3.11.4 Although, in general, Regional Bahá’í Councils can be authorized to correspond directly with the World Center in order to share current information about the activities of their respective communities, this should not be misconstrued as a means to bypass the institution of the National Spiritual Assembly in matters requiring guidance or decision.

    12. 3.12 In most countries the legal status of Regional Bahá’í Councils would seem to be adequately covered by the National Assembly’s incorporation.

    13. 3.13 Just as Counselors have direct consultative relations with National and Local Spiritual Assemblies, so they also have direct relations with Regional Bahá’í Councils.

      1. 3.13.1 Whenever the Counselors feel it necessary or desirable, they are free to deputize one or more Auxiliary Board members to represent them in consultations with a Regional Bahá’í Council. Also, occasional meetings should be arranged between a Regional Bahá’í Council and the Auxiliary Board members responsible for areas within its region, for the discussion of the vision and strategies for the work. A regular and free exchange of information between Auxiliary Board members on the one hand and Regional Bahá’í Councils on the other is encouraged.

  4. 4 National Committees in the New Structure:

    It is advisable for a National Spiritual Assembly to have a National Teaching Committee even if Regional Bahá’í Councils are formed in every part of a country. The functions of the National Teaching Committee in a country in which Regional Bahá’í Councils have been established are as follows.

    1. 4.1 The Guardian has referred to national committees as expert advisers and executive assistants of a National Spiritual Assembly. This suggests that, rather than diminishing the role of its National Teaching Committee when Regional Bahá’í Councils are formed, a National Spiritual Assembly would develop further the advisory and executive aspects of its responsibilities in certain respects. The capacity of the National Teaching Committee to monitor the effectiveness of the teaching work throughout the country could be enhanced. Through its knowledge of the progress of the work, it should be able to bring to the National Assembly’s attention strengths and needs in any region. There are also a number of specific matters, such as the analysis of opportunities for expansion and consolidation in rapidly changing conditions, the identification of successful approaches to teaching, and the dissemination of promising teaching methods, which would benefit from the constant attention of a vibrant and competent National Teaching Committee. Issues related to teaching among minorities and specific groups who reside in more than one region of the country present another area which would benefit from a National Teaching Committee’s attention.

    2. 4.2 The work of the National Teaching Committee in relation to Regional Bahá’í Councils is one of service and assistance, rather than direction and supervision as it is in relation to regional teaching committees. A parallel can be seen in the work of a national training institute, to which the National Assembly assigns the task of developing human resources: the institute assists the Councils by offering them programs for the training of the human resources needed to carry out their plans in each region. The National Teaching Committee would, similarly, offer services to the Councils in support of the teaching work.

    3. 4.3 In countries where Regional Bahá’í Councils have been introduced only for certain areas, the National Teaching Committee is expected to perform not only the functions outlined above, but also to remain responsible, both directly and through its Regional Teaching Committees, for serving those areas not under the care of a Council. In carrying out such functions there must, of course, be close collaboration between the National Teaching Committee and its Regional Teaching Committees on the one hand, and the Regional Bahá’í Councils on the other.

    4. 4.4 In the case of all national committees, it is important to ensure that legitimate national programs do not run counter to the process of decentralization, except in special emergency situations.

– 15 –

6 January 1998

To the Friends Gathered at the Latin American
Youth Congress in Chile

Dear Friends,

As the Cause of God advances resistlessly along the path traced out for it by its Divine Founder, each stage of the process opens up to a new generation of Bahá’í youth challenges unique to the historical moment. Building on the accomplishments of the generations before, youth must devise ways to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them. A discourse in consonance with the requirements of the time has to be refined, and activities aimed at transforming society have to be pursued with vigor.

To accomplish such tasks during the brief span of time afforded youth requires resolve, spiritual discipline, energy, reliance on the power of divine assistance, and constant immersion in the Word of God. These efforts, which constitute an integral part of the growth processes of the Bahá’í community itself, nevertheless possess characteristics distinctly their own. In recent years, and in many parts of the world, Bahá’í Youth have referred to their collective endeavors as a “youth movement,” a reminder that the energy being generated will not only bring new recruits from among their peers, but will move an entire generation one step closer to the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh.

Over the next few days you will be contemplating the special opportunities which the Hand of Providence has laid before you. An essential component of any strategy you devise is training. In all your countries, this question is being enthusiastically addressed as institutes learn to operate with increasing effectiveness. You yourselves are participating, as students and as teachers, in building capacity in your communities to train thousands and thousands of believers, many of whom will be young people. With this vision in mind, you should devise actions, characteristic of your youth movement, in which your swelling numbers will engage. How will you teach the Cause and advance the process of entry by troops? How will you contribute to the establishment of a distinctly Bahá’í life? And how will you accelerate the transformation of Latin American society to achieve its high destiny? As you contemplate these questions, be assured that our prayers will surround you.

The Universal House of Justice

– 16 –

Riḍván 1998

To the Bahá’ís of the World

Dearly loved Friends,

At this halfway mark in the Four Year Plan, we affirm with uplifted hearts that the worldwide Bahá’í community is breaking new ground at a dynamic stage in its evolution. The process of entry by troops, upon which its energies are focused, is clearly advancing.

Three developments brighten our expectations. One is in the solid results being produced wherever training institutes are in operation. Tens of thousands of individuals have over the last two years completed at least one institute course. The immediate effects upon them have been a greatly strengthened faith, a more conscious spiritual identity, and a deepened commitment to Bahá’í service. The second pertains to the notable improvement in the conditions affecting the establishment and renewal of Local Spiritual Assemblies. The decision to form these institutions only on the first day of Riḍván, and to do so principally at the initiative of the communities to which they belong, was put into effect in 1997. While there was an immediate but not unexpected drop in the number of Local Assemblies worldwide, the decrease was not very large; in fact, increases were recorded in some countries. This outcome indicates that the process of maturation of these divinely ordained institutions is on course. The third is that a new confidence in teaching is stirring the friends, yielding impressive results in various regions. The potential for a steady and ever-expanding influx of new believers has always been great, and we are able to say with assurance that the capacity to actualize it is methodically being developed more than ever before with the prosecution of the current Plan.

Further to these signs of progress, we are gratified by the marvelous speed with which the construction projects on Mount Carmel proceeded to fulfill the schedule which had been set for the year just ended. Immediately ahead are the establishment in May of three new National Spiritual Assemblies—Sabah, Sarawak, and Slovakia—and the reestablishment of the National Spiritual Assembly in Liberia, raising to 179 the pillars of the Universal House of Justice. In contemplating the divine favors being bestowed on our community, we acknowledge with deep gratitude the constancy of the acts of service being performed by the individual Hands of the Cause of God, by the International Teaching Centre, and by the Counsellors and their auxiliaries on all continents. The increasing strength of National Spiritual Assemblies also bolsters our certitude in the imminence of resounding victories.

Against this salutary picture of the community’s prospects is the confused background of a planet at odds with itself. And yet, amid the widespread desolation of the human spirit, it is apparent that at some level of consciousness there is among the peoples of the world a growing sense of an irresistible movement towards global unity and peace. This sense is being aroused as the physical barriers between peoples are being virtually eliminated by breathtaking advances in science and technology. Nevertheless, a mixed catalogue of world-shaking tribulations and world-shaping developments keeps humanity concurrently dazed and dazzled. The storms and stresses battering the social fabric are incomprehensible to all except the relatively few of the planet’s inhabitants who recognize God’s purpose for this Day.

Our fellow human beings everywhere are insensibly subjected at one and the same time to the conflicting emotions incited by the continuous operation of simultaneous processes of “rise and of fall, of integration and of disintegration, of order and chaos.” These Shoghi Effendi identified as aspects of the Major Plan and Minor Plan of God, the two known ways in which His purpose for humankind is going forward. The Major Plan is associated with turbulence and calamity and proceeds with an apparent, random disorderliness, but is, in fact, inexorably driving humanity towards unity and maturity. Its agency for the most part is the people who are ignorant of its course and even antagonistic towards its aim. As Shoghi Effendi has pointed out, God’s Major Plan uses “both the mighty and the lowly as pawns in His world-shaping game, for the fulfillment of His immediate purpose and the eventual establishment of His Kingdom on earth.” The acceleration of the processes it generates is lending impetus to developments which, with all the initial pain and heartache attributable to them, we Bahá’ís see as signs of the emergence of the Lesser Peace.

Unlike His Major Plan, which works mysteriously, God’s Minor Plan is clearly delineated, operates according to orderly and well-known processes, and has been given to us to execute. Its ultimate goal is the Most Great Peace. The four-year-long campaign, at the mid-point of which we have arrived, constitutes the current stage in the Minor Plan. It is to the achievement of its purpose that we must all devote our attention and energies.

At times it may seem that the operation of the Major Plan causes a disruption in the work of the Minor Plan, but the friends have every reason to remain undismayed. For they recognize the source of the recurrent turbulence at play in the world and, in the words of our Guardian, “acknowledge its necessity, observe confidently its mysterious processes, ardently pray for the mitigation of its severity, intelligently labor to assuage its fury, and anticipate, with undimmed vision, the consummation of the fears and the hopes it must necessarily engender.”

Even a cursory survey of the global scene in recent years cannot but lead to observations fraught with special significance for a Bahá’í viewer. For one thing, amid the din of a society in turmoil can be discerned an unmistakable trend towards the Lesser Peace. An intriguing inkling is provided by the greater involvement of the United Nations, with the backing of powerful governments, in attending to long-standing and urgent world problems; another derives from the dramatic recognition by world leaders in only recent months of what the interconnectedness of all nations in the matter of trade and finance really implies—a condition which Shoghi Effendi anticipated as an essential aspect of an organically unified world. But a development of even greater moment to the Bahá’í community is that a massive number of people are searching for spiritual truth. Several recently published studies have been devoted to this phenomenon. The ideologies that dominated the larger part of this century have been exhausted; at their waning in the century’s closing years, a hunger for meaning, a yearning of the soul, is on the rise.

This spiritual hunger is characterized by a restlessness, by a swelling dissatisfaction with the moral state of society; it is also evident in the upsurge of fundamentalism among various religious sects, and in the multiplication of new movements posing as religions or aspiring to take the place of religion. Here are observations that enable one to appreciate the interaction between the two divinely propelled processes at work on the planet. The manifold opportunities thus providentially provided to present the Message of Bahá’u’lláh to searching souls create a dynamic situation for the Bahá’í teacher. The implications for the task at hand are immensely encouraging.

Our hopes, our goals, our possibilities of moving forward can all be realized through concentrating our endeavors on the major aim of the Divine Plan at its current stage—that is, to effect a significant advance in the process of entry by troops. This challenge can be met through persistent effort patiently pursued. Entry by troops is a possibility well within the grasp of our community. Unremitting faith, prayer, the promptings of the soul, Divine assistance—these are among the essentials of progress in any Bahá’í undertaking. But also of vital importance to bringing about entry by troops is a realistic approach, systematic action. There are no shortcuts. Systematization ensures consistency of lines of action based on well-conceived plans. In a general sense, it implies an orderliness of approach in all that pertains to Bahá’í service, whether in teaching or administration, in individual or collective endeavor. While allowing for individual initiative and spontaneity, it suggests the need to be clear-headed, methodical, efficient, constant, balanced and harmonious. Systematization is a necessary mode of functioning animated by the urgency to act.

Towards ensuring an orderly evolution of the community, a function of Bahá’í institutions is to organize and maintain a process of developing human resources whereby Bahá’ís, new and veteran alike, can acquire the knowledge and capacity to sustain a continuous expansion and consolidation of the community. The establishment of training institutes is critical to such effort, since they are centers through which large numbers of individuals can acquire and improve their ability to teach and administer the Faith. Their existence underscores the importance of knowledge of the Faith as a source of power for invigorating the life of the Bahá’í community and of the individuals who compose it.

The facts at hand confirm that the Four Year Plan works where a systematic approach is understood and applied. These same facts show that the institutions of the Faith, in their collaborative efforts at national, regional, and local levels, have clearly been adhering to this understanding. However, with individuals, on whom rests the ultimate success of the Plan, this understanding is less clear. For this reason, we must emphasize to our fellow-believers the importance to their individual effort of this prerequisite of success in teaching and in other undertakings.

As translated into programs and projects by national and local institutions, the Plan, among other things, gives direction, identifies goals, stimulates effort, provides a variety of needed facilities and materials to benefit the work of teachers and administrators. This is of course necessary for the proper functioning of the community, but is of no consequence unless its individual members respond through active participation. In so responding, each individual, too, must make a conscious decision as to what he or she will do to serve the Plan, and as to how, where and when to do it. This determination enables the individual to check the progress of his actions and, if necessary, to modify the steps being taken. Becoming accustomed to such a procedure of systematic striving lends meaning and fulfillment to the life of any Bahá’í.

But beyond the necessity of responding to the call of the institutions, the individual is charged by Bahá’u’lláh Himself with the sacred duty of teaching His Cause, described by Him as the “most meritorious of all deeds.”

So long as there are souls in need of enlightenment, this duty must surely remain the constant occupation of every believer. In its fulfillment, the individual is directly responsible to Bahá’u’lláh. “Let him not wait for any directions,” Shoghi Effendi urgently advises, “or expect any special encouragement, from the elected representatives of his community, nor be deterred by any obstacles which his relatives, or fellow-citizens may be inclined to place in his path, nor mind the censure of his critics or enemies.” The writings of the Central Figures and of our Guardian are replete with advice and exhortations concerning the individual’s irreplaceable role in the advancement of the Cause. So it is inevitable that we should feel impelled, at this particular time in the life of humanity as a whole, to appeal directly to each member of our community to ponder the urgent situation facing us all as the helpers of the Abhá Beauty.

Our lot, dear brothers and sisters, is to be consciously involved in a vast historic process the like of which has not ever before been experienced by any people. As a global community, we have, thus far, attained a unique and magnificent success in being representative of the full spectrum of the human race—thanks to the inestimable expenditure of life, effort and treasure willingly made by thousands of our spiritual forebears. There is no other aggregation of human beings who can claim to have raised up a system with the demonstrated capacity to unite all of God’s children in one world-embracing Order. This achievement places us not only in a position of incomparable strength, but more particularly in one of inescapable responsibility. Does not every one of us therefore have a divine obligation to fulfill, a sacred duty to perform towards every other one who is not yet aware of the call of God’s latest Manifestation? Time does not stop, does not wait. With every passing hour a fresh affliction strikes at a distracted humanity. Dare we linger?

In a mere two years the Four Year Plan will be concluded, just some months before the end of an unforgettable century. Looming before us, then, is a twofold date with destiny. In extolling the unprecedented potential of the twentieth century, the beloved Master averred that its traces will last forever. Seized with such a vision, the mind of the alert follower of the Blessed Beauty must undoubtedly be astir with anxious questions as to what part he or she will play in these few fleeting years, and as to whether he or she will, at the end of this seminal period, have made a mark among those enduring traces which the mind of the Master perceived. To ensure a soul-satisfying answer, one thing above all else is necessary: to act, to act now, and to continue to act.

Our heartfelt plea at the Holy Threshold on behalf of us all is that we may be divinely aided and richly confirmed in whatever we do towards meeting the urgent aim of the Divine Plan at so fate-laden a moment in human history.

The Universal House of Justice

– 17 –

3 May 1998

To the Conference of the Continental Counsellors

Beloved Friends,

It has been barely two years and four months since you came together here at the outset of your current term of service. In our message to your conference at that time, we described in detail not only the purpose and structure of the Four Year Plan but the form in which it would have to be pursued if it was to realize its ambitious aim. You were then given the mandate to go forth and prepare the Bahá’í world to take on the challenges that lay ahead.

The extraordinary events of the Convention we have all just witnessed bear eloquent testimony to the ardor and effectiveness of your response. All of the institutions of the Faith have most certainly played their parts in moving our beloved Cause a giant step forward in this brief period. The clarity and vigor with which the National Spiritual Assemblies are addressing the tasks of the Plan reflect that dramatic advance in maturity that the Guardian encouraged us to expect in these closing years of the century. We feel compelled, however, to pay special tribute to the selfless, inspiriting and intelligent contributions which you have made to this collective enterprise. Your work has brought honor to your institution and immense joy to our hearts.

As a result of your unceasing activity during the months immediately following the conference, the Bahá’í world had been made ready, by the time it received our Riḍván 1996 message, to enter into intensive detailed planning. And once national plans were formulated your efforts did not slacken; with equal vigor you and your auxiliaries galvanized the believers into systematic action and helped them to remain focused on the central aim of the Plan. We hope that you will convey to your Auxiliary Board members and their assistants our heartfelt gratitude.

The challenge which now faces the Bahá’í world is to take advantage of the momentum thus achieved. It has within its grasp the opportunity to multiply its human resources on a scale far beyond anything heretofore attained. Every measure must be taken to ensure that this possibility becomes a reality. Training must be offered widely, to contingents of newly enrolled and veteran believers alike. It is also imperative that the energies being generated and the skills being developed through training institute programs be channeled to serve directly the needs of the Plan. In short—without any delay—the work should move to the higher tempo that recent accomplishments make possible.

Your consultations this week need to be eminently practical. You come to them with a wealth of experience that the Bahá’í community has never before enjoyed. You are well aware of the diverse strengths of the communities you serve and of the efficacy of the methods being employed in the field. The lessons of these past two years need to be examined and correlated, and their implications for advancing the process of entry by troops must be understood. In this context, you will also have to consider the increased capacity of your own institution, the work of the Auxiliary Board members, and your interaction with them, with Spiritual Assemblies, and with the International Teaching Centre, whose concern it is to reinforce your efforts with advice, perspectives and resources.

Dear friends! You represent an army of able and highly motivated servants of the Cause throughout the world. Yours is an institution which, in one respect, has a particularly intimate relationship with the Universal House of Justice; in another, it is able to exercise an influence that penetrates the very grassroots of the community. Its nature fits it, uniquely, to serve as a river of encouragement, example and love whose waters can refresh and invigorate the spirit of every believer they touch.

We will follow your consultations this week with the heightened hope and confidence which your impressive achievements to date have awakened. For your part, be sure of our ardent prayers that Bahá’u’lláh will bless your deliberations and confirm your efforts to help bring about the massive increase in resources which the mission of our beloved Cause so urgently requires.

The Universal House of Justice

– 18 –

Riḍván 1999

To the Bahá’ís of the World

Dearly loved Friends,

Our hearts are aglow with hope as we survey what has been accomplished in the year preceding the fateful, final stretch toward the consummation of the Four Year Plan. From the year’s momentous beginning with the Eighth International Bahá’í Convention, the Bahá’í world has sustained a rising pace of activity that has significantly advanced the process of entry by troops. Our community has grown appreciably, its human resources have been richly enhanced. From projects of expansion to endeavors at consolidation, from social and economic development to external affairs, from services of the youth to expressions in the arts, from the World Centre of the Faith to remote villages and towns—in fact, from whatever angle the community is viewed—progress has been made. The prospects for the Plan are impelling.

The momentum generated at the International Convention pervaded the Counsellors’ Conference that immediately followed it, further galvanizing the indefatigable participants; and it charged the proceedings of the National Conventions held in May, including those of Sabah, Sarawak, and Slovakia which met for the first time to form their National Spiritual Assemblies. That same energy infused the International Teaching Centre, which has been displaying a remarkable potency in the short time since its sixth term began on the anniversary of the Declaration of the Báb. Concentrating on refining and consolidating their organization, the Counsellor members have refrained from their usual travels during this first year, but they can be expected after this to resume their visits to various parts of the world, so as to reinforce their vitalizing influence on the successful conclusion of the Four Year Plan.

Further to these happenings in the Holy Land, the construction projects on Mount Carmel, beheld with such thrilling astonishment by the delegates to the International Convention, press onward towards their scheduled completion at the end of the century. With the opening since last Riḍván of all remaining areas of construction, the speed of work has reached a new peak. The Centre for the Study of the Texts and the Extension to the Archives Building are being readied for occupancy within a few weeks; the exterior of the International Teaching Centre building is fully clad in marble, while finishing work at all levels of its interior is proceeding. The lowering of Hatzionut Avenue, to accommodate the bridge which now connects the Terraces of the Shrine of the Báb on both sides of the road, has been completed and normal traffic restored. The unfolding magnificence of the Terraces has so captured public attention that the nineteenth terrace at the top of the mountain has already been opened to visitors on a daily schedule, evoking the enthusiastic response of a grateful populace. As part of a campaign to attract international attention to the city, the Municipality of Haifa has published a pictorial brochure on the Shrine of the Báb and the Terraces, available in five major languages besides Hebrew.

We feel compelled to mention at least two other developments at the World Centre of a wholly different order: First, the decision to raise the number of pilgrims in each group to 150 from 100—this to take effect when the revamping, now in progress, of the newly acquired building, situated across the way from the resting place of the Greatest Holy Leaf, has been completed and use can be made of its provision of a pilgrim hall and other facilities for the administration of an expanded pilgrimage program. Second is the notable headway being made, despite the inevitable slowness of the process, in the plan to translate texts from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh with a view to publishing a new English volume of His works. Effort is being devoted to providing full versions of such major Tablets as the Súriy-i-Mulúk and the Súriy-i-Haykal, as well as complete texts of Tablets addressed to individual kings and rulers. Also scheduled for inclusion are the Súriy-i-Ra’ís, the Lawh.-i-Ra’ís and the Lawh.-i-Fu’ád.

The Cause of Bahá’u’lláh marches on resistlessly, quickened by the increasing application of an approach to the development and use of human resources that is systematic. The further creation of national and regional training institutes, now numbering 344, has pressed this development forward, with the result that, apart from North America and Iran where numerous courses have been given, some 70,000 individuals have already completed at least one institute course. All of this is contributing to a growing body of confirmed, active supporters of the Cause. The untold potential of this progression is illustrated in such reports as the one received from Chad, where in an area served by an institute more than 1,000 people embraced the Faith through the individual efforts of those who had received training. Understanding of the necessity for systematization in the development of human resources is everywhere taking hold.

Collateral with the demonstrated efficacy of training institutes is the pragmatic emergence of Regional Bahá’í Councils in selected countries where conditions have made the establishment of these institutions necessary and viable. Where there is close interaction between a Council and a training institute, the stage is set for a galvanic coherence of the processes effecting expansion and consolidation in a region, and for the practical matching of the training services of institutes to the developmental needs of local communities. Moreover, the operational guidelines whereby the Continental Counsellors and the Regional Councils have direct access to each other give rise to a further institutional relationship which, along with that connecting the Councils to the National and Local Spiritual Assemblies, effectuates a dynamic integration of functions at the regional level.

The ever-expanding work in social and economic development is also benefiting from the operation of those training institutes that give attention to such subjects as literacy, primary health care and the advancement of women. The more widespread efforts of the Office of Social and Economic Development to promote a global process of learning about relevant Bahá’í principles are enhanced by the work of these institutes, as well as by the rise of Bahá’í-inspired organizations scattered throughout the planet. Clearly, then, the institutional capacity to administer development programs is gaining in strength. This is apparent in projects sponsored by Bahá’í institutions or initiated by individuals through the inspiration of the Faith. An outstanding example of the latter is Unity College, which was created by a family in Ethiopia as the first, and since late 1998, the only private college in the country, with a student body that swelled to 5,000 during this past year. Another example, on a smaller scale but of significance nonetheless, is the initiative taken by a family in Buffalo, New York: here, in their home, they have been assisting tens of children and youth from the inner city to develop, through Bahá’í spiritual and moral teachings, patterns of behavior that will enable them to overcome self-destructive attitudes bred by poverty and racism.

In the area of external affairs, the most energetic actions have been prompted by two tragic happenings in Iran. The sudden execution in Mashhad last July of Mr. Rúḥu’lláh Rawḥání, the first such official action in six years, registered a shock that provoked a worldwide and unprecedented outcry by governments and United Nations agencies. In late September the government’s intelligence agency launched an organized attack on the Bahá’í Institute of Higher Education, involving the arrest of 36 members of the faculty and raids on more than 500 homes across the country. The latter incident inspired a global campaign of protest, still in progress, in which academic institutions and associations, educators, and student groups have been participating, and in which the press has taken a special interest, as reflected in the appearance of substantial articles in Le Monde, The New York Times and other major newspapers. The successful passage in the United Nations General Assembly last December of yet another resolution on Iran, in which the Bahá’ís are distinctly mentioned, must surely have been influenced by these two conspicuous manifestations of an unrelenting religious persecution.

But intensive as has been the demand upon the friends in all parts of the world to defend our beleaguered brethren, much attention was devoted as well to a wide range of external affairs endeavors. The four-month-long mission undertaken by an emissary of the House of Justice, Mr. Giovanni Ballerio, to islands of the Pacific Ocean where he met with 22 heads of state, 5 heads of government and more than 40 other high-ranking officials; the efforts pursued by a number of National Assemblies, at the urging of the Bahá’í International Community’s United Nations Office, to promote human rights education; the participation, by invitation, of representatives of South Africa’s Bahá’í community in the proceedings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, at which they were able to recount their record of unflinching support of racial unity throughout the years of apartheid; the recent success of communities in Australia, Brazil, Finland and Portugal in obtaining the decision of educational authorities to include courses on the Bahá’í Faith in the curricula of primary and secondary schools—these, not to mention the public information projects that generated publicity through all forms of the media, are examples of the broadly based enterprises in external affairs that engaged the energies of the community.

A corollary spate of activities involved the use of the arts, of which the musical and other artistic performances associated with the celebration in Paris of the centenary of the establishment of the Faith in Europe were an outstanding instance. The Voices of Bahá Choir, composed of 68 members drawn from Europe and the Americas, delighted audiences in eight European cities and introduced the Faith to many. “Light and Fire,” the completed part of an opera/ballet being written by Bahá’í composer Lasse Thoresen of Norway, was successfully performed last September at the prestigious music festival in Poland known as the Warsaw Autumn, which was opened by the Queen of Sweden. The work is based on recent heroic acts of the martyrs in Iran, a fact that exposed the audience to knowledge of the Faith. Europe’s apparent lead in these particular endeavors was also marked by the occasion of the Austrian Chamber Music Festival when the Austrian Cross for Sciences and Arts, the highest award of its kind for Austria, was presented by the President of the Republic to Mr. Bijan Khadem-Missagh, a Bahá’í violinist and conductor. A program at that same Festival featured the recitation of extracts from Bahá’í and other sacred scriptures. But a word, too, must be said in recognition of the prominent part being played by youth all over the world in their employment of the arts in the teaching work; renditions by their dance workshops, in particular, have acquired renown within and outside the Bahá’í community.

We therefore enter this Riḍván season, as a community in a dynamic state of transformation, enjoying a coherence of vision and activity consonant with the aim of advancing the process of entry by troops. And we begin the final year of the Plan with a boost in administrative strength, as three countries in Europe—Latvia, Lithuania and Macedonia—convoke their first Conventions to form National Spiritual Assemblies and thus raise the number of pillars of the Universal House of Justice to 182. But beyond this festive moment is a chronology of expectations that lists, first and foremost, the conclusion of the Four Year Plan at Riḍván 2000. This will be followed by the commencement on the Day of the Covenant of that very year of a new term of office for the Continental Boards of Counsellors, whose members will soon thereafter be called to the Bahá’í World Centre for a conference at which, among other matters, the features of the next global teaching and consolidation plan will be discussed. The Counsellors’ Conference will mark the occupation by the International Teaching Centre of its permanent seat, an occasion for which Auxiliary Board members throughout the world will be invited to join the Counsellors in the Holy Land. The Mount Carmel projects will have been completed by this time and the preparations will have been well advanced for dedicatory events, scheduled to take place on 22 and 23 May 2001, to which a number of representatives from each national Bahá’í community will be invited. The details concerning these events are to be announced in due course.

This projection of portentous happenings cuts across the divide in time between the twentieth century and the new millennium, according to the reckoning of the common era. It is a projection that underscores the contrast between the confident vision that propels the constructive endeavors of an illumined community and the tangled fears seizing the millions upon millions who are as yet unaware of the Day in which they are living. Bereft of authentic guidance, they dwell on the horrors of the century, despairing over what these could imply for the future, hardly appreciating that this very century contains a light that will be shed on centuries to come. Ill-equipped to interpret the social commotion at play throughout the planet, they listen to the pundits of error and sink deeper into a slough of despond. Troubled by forecasts of doom, they do battle with the phantoms of a wrongly informed imagination. Knowing nothing of the transformative vision vouchsafed by the Lord of the Age, they stumble ahead, blind to the peerlessness of the new Day of God.

The pitiful conditions implied by such a state of heart and mind cannot but prompt us all to action, unabating action, to fulfill the intentions of a Plan whose major aim is to accelerate that process which will make it possible for growing numbers of the world’s people to find the Object of their quest and thus to build a united, peaceful and prosperous life.

Dear Friends: The days pass swiftly as the twinkle of a star. Make your mark now, at this crucial turning point of a juncture, the like of which shall never return. Make that mark in deeds that will ensure for you celestial blessings—guarantee for you, for the entire race, a future beyond any earthly reckoning.

The Universal House of Justice

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