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Shoghi Effendi:

by Ugo Giachery

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Chapter 1

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The Personality of Shoghi Effendi

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An Appreciation

MY direct association with Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, was a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience of the deepest spiritual import that can only very inadequately be described or explained in words. It began in the spring of 1947, after my wife and I had returned to Italy, and it lasted a little more than ten years.

In the early 1920's the Guardian had been, at least to the Western Bahá'ís, an almost intangible figure, the symbol of an institution functioning on an extra-human plane, incomprehensible from any rational approach. I knew him first through his letters and messages to the Western world. At that time my knowledge of the East was confined to acquaintance with a few Persian Bahá'ís who had migrated to our part of the globe and had acquired many Western habits and characteristics. Reports from Bahá'ís returning from pilgrimages to the World Centre of the Faith in 'Akka and Haifa were at times vague, at times contradictory, and not always illuminating. Those pilgrims who had earlier been in the presence of the Master, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, were reticent; they spoke with compassion of the bereaved members of His family and grieved at the emptiness left by His passing in November 1921. Other pilgrims mentioned details of the life in Haifa, of its beauty and repose, making reference to Shoghi Effendi as a scholarly youth who had an extraordinarily brilliant and cultured mind, and as a kind, loving, gentle and hospitable host. In those early days of the Guardian's ministry, when the basic institutions of the Administrative Order were being forged into shape one by one, with much labour and great travail, it was indeed difficult to understand Shoghi Effendi's unique station, aims and efforts. The great body of the Bahá'ís, the world over, was like a new-born babe whose sight is not yet adjusted to the new world into which he has come. The old believers, in East and West, were slowly recovering from the extremely severe loss of their beloved 'Abdu'l-Bahá and from the shock of what appeared to them to be an irreparable vacuum in the affairs of the Cause. The newer believers were trying with difficulty to become part of the as yet dimly understood administrative pattern. When we read the early messages of Shoghi Effendi now, we can see how immensely vast was his vision and how wise and far-sighted are the plans outlined in his letters and communications. All his counsel, as he led them on the way to an understanding of Bahá'u'lláh's universal conception of World Order, is expressed by Shoghi Effendi in words charged at first with patience and expectation and then with a surge of unbridled hope, underlined, however, by a shade of indefinable sadness. Was this due to the loss of his beloved Grandfather, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, or to the immensity of the tasks ahead?

I am certain that the echo which sounded then in my heart was resounding similarly in the hearts of countless Bahá'ís everywhere. When Shoghi Effendi's first messages appeared, followed soon by his translations of some of the Sacred Writings, it was clear that a new style came into bloom, a new standard was set, and a perfect balance was achieved between the poetic and flowery Eastern languages of the original texts and the rationalistic Western idioms. I vividly remember spending long hours reading and living every word, feeling the joy of being part of some reality which reflected an unseen world as yet unknown to most human beings, from which emerged, with ever-increasing brilliancy, Shoghi Effendi's personality. In later years when I was fortunate enough to meet him in person, I was grieved to notice what a heavy toll his gentle body had paid during the decades of writing and translating. As time passed, Shoghi Effendi's personality arose in crystalline clarity to an ever greater magnitude, establishing him as a true beloved in the hearts of the believers and as a leading and unique world figure. Historians and scientists of the future will eagerly investigate the life, activities and achievements of Shoghi Effendi, and prove to a perhaps still disinterested and unbelieving world all the spiritual and eugenic factors that blended into the making of a genius.

Shoghi Effendi's love of learning, his eagerness to know and understand, a refined artistic taste combined with a great ability to do things, the remarkable energy he possessed, all these, together with much common sense and such superior spiritual powers that all who came into contact with him were subjugated by his love, made it clear that the striking qualities so evident in his maternal Grandfather had appeared in him to the fullest extent. His indomitable will imposed a self-control which is seldom found in others. During the first crucial months of his stewardship following the passing of Abdu'l-Bahá, when he found himself appointed Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, undoubtedly he must have relied on this self-control to adjust himself to his new life, to bid farewell to his youthful dreams, to his fondness for sports (tennis and Alpine climbing), submerging all worldly desires, interests and feelings - normal emotions in a young man of his age and rank - into nothingness. As to his remarkable energy, suffice it to say that his ability to work uninterruptedly for long hours was amazing and bordered upon the marvelous.

He was of a gentle nature, his manners were cordial, remarkably loving and aristocratic, and his memory was extraordinary. He could remember names, dates, places and circumstances with a clarity that commanded respect and admiration. He knew the history of the Bábi and the Bahá'í Revelations from their inception, while at the same time his full, comprehensive and detailed knowledge of the world and its nations, peoples, governments, religions, history and culture was outstanding. With regard to his appearance, my first impression was one of wonder. His gentle, graceful figure was enhanced by the power and authority which emanated from him; his broad forehead, his fine hazel eyes filled with light, the harmonious oval shape of his dear face, with his dark hair and small moustache, the consuming fire of his gaze, the small well-shaped hands, the striking purity and innocence and integrity which emanated from his whole being, all made a perfect vehicle for the tremendous forces of the spirit which were channelled through him.

His apparently delicate body was charged with such vitality that he could work month after month, year after year, without any appreciable interruption. If one came near to him, one could feel this great vitality, almost like an electric charge, radiating from him upon men and things, and when his particularly well-modulated and resonant voice eagerly and passionately expressed the depth of his thoughts, the fascination was complete and captivating.

Early in 1947 I was practically unknown to him but, because of a fortunate coincidence which placed me in Italy at that time, I was charged by him with the mighty task of securing the carved marble and other materials for construction of the outer structure of the Báb's Shrine on Mt. Carmel. My personal relationship with the Guardian hitherto had been limited to a few letters and some cablegrams, most of which concerned personal matters. After the work on the Shrine began, in April 1948, directives came with frequent regularity, and I soon learned that alertness, speed and accuracy were wanted by him at all times. Then I well understood the tone of urgency which had become the keynote of most of his messages.

Those were difficult days in Italy, a country whose economy had been shattered by a disastrous war. My efforts therefore had to be multiplied if I wanted to keep pace with Shoghi Effendi's eagerness. As I redoubled my efforts, my recompense became greater. Never before in long years of business activity had I received such a recompense! A flow of appreciation, of tender and abiding love, of undeserved praise and gratitude came my way almost every day, for well over nine years. My life was transformed: the greatest joy and elevation came to me from a gentle and noble hand that penned letters and cables in words loomed with the indestructible threads of superhuman love - words which revealed to me what a treasure the world possessed!

As time passed, my activity expanded: more duties and more trust were placed upon my person. By then I was well aware of a tremendous power which originated at the World Centre of the Faith and was bountifully infused into my being by him whose word and wish had become my law. Finally, in the early spring of 1952, when my longing could be repressed no longer, a cablegram came: 'Welcome to Haifa'. Hasty and feverish preparations were completed in a few days and then I went on wings.

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