Pope Addressed by Baha'is in India
Amongst other important engagements during his state visit to India from 5-7 November 1999, Pope John Paul II, Head of the Roman Catholic Church, attended an inter-religious meeting. Against a backdrop of protests by various sectarian groups against ecumenism, this particular function had aroused keen interest. Distinguished representatives of nine religions, including Mrs. Zena Sorabjee of the Baha'i community, shared the platform with Pope John Paul. Many ambassadors, high- ranking government officials, political and civic leaders and intellectuals, as well as cardinals, archbishops and other senior religious dignitaries, were present at this unique event held at the prestigious Vigyan Bhavan Complex on 7 November.
The representatives of the religions were introduced to the Pope as he entered the Auditorium to a standing ovation, and as the religions represented were listed in alphabetical order, Mrs. Sorabjee, the only female representative, was the first to be introduced to the Pope. Each had two minutes in which to welcome and address him, and Mrs. Sorabjee was the last to do so. On television the Pope could be seen to be listening intently to her felicitations and address. Her speech also a ppeared to make a visible impact on the audience. The Archbishop who introduced the speakers in turn thanked Mrs. Sorabjee for her lovely words. The Pope later presented the representatives with a commemorative medallion. While taking refreshments after the speeches were complete, many of those present expressed to members of the Baha'i delegation their appreciation of Mrs. Sorabjee's words, some even requesting a copy of her address.
The presence of a large array of cameras and many members of the world's media highlighted the importance of the event, which was telecast live throughout India, and to many other parts of the world through satellite television. It is reported that Baha'is in a number of countries, including Australia and Bangladesh, viewed the broadcast.
The press dossier presented to each participant contained an attractive multi-coloured programme sheet that embodied quotations from the Scriptures of various religions including the Words of Baha'u'llah. In addition, a souvenir distributed by the Catholic Bishops' Conference contained a message from the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of India and an article by Dr. A.K. Merchant on 'Inter-Faith Co-operative Action Towards a New Society For National Development'. This souvenir had been issued on the occasion of the National Inter-Faith Assembly held in 1998 at Bangalore in preparation for the Pope's visit.
That the Catholic Church in India invited the Baha'is to participate in this highly important and prestigious gathering demonstrates the recognition accorded to the Faith as one of the major religions of the country. The unprecedented media publicity will open many more opportunities for the Baha'i community to interact with religious leaders of the world at inter- faith dialogues.
The members of the Baha'i delegation were Mrs. Zena Sorabjee, Mrs. Farida Vahedi, Mr. Jitin Mishra, Mr. Rajan Sawant, Mr. Cyrus Vahedi, Mr. Daryush Vahedi, Dr. Behnam Ta'i, Mrs. Maryam Ta'i, Mr. S.P. Chaudhary, Mrs. Mahnaz Merchant, Mrs. Chhaya Diesh and Ms. Gloria Badjate.
"Your Holiness Pope John Paul II, your Eminences the Cardinals and Archbishops, honourable speakers and guests. I stand here today to represent the Baha'i community of India at this august and distinguished gathering in the gracious presence of His Holiness, the spiritual head of millions of Catholics spread in all parts of the globe, who is a much loved and revered leader amongst the nations of the world.
"The Baha'is would like to offer our sincere and respectful felicitations to His Holiness for having undertaken this long and arduous journey to uplift the spirit of the numerous Catholics, the followers of Jesus Christ in this country.
"As His Holiness mentioned yesterday, the largest number of religions coexist in India where the Constitution upholds the right of every individual to believe in and practise the religion of his free choice. Mention was also made of the need for unity in diversity and respect to be accorded to all religions. The Baha'is of the world, followers of Baha'u'llah, strongly support every step which is directed towards upholding the unity of religions. It is an article of our Faith that there is but one religion, and the Source of that religion is the Creator, God. Different religions are but progressive chapters in that book of religion. Baha'u'llah states, "That the divers communions of the earth, and the manifold systems of religious belief, should never be allowed to foster the feelings of animosity amongst men, is, in this Day, of the essence of the Faith of God and His Religion. These principles and laws, these firmly established and mighty systems, have proceeded from one Source, and are the rays of one Light. That they differ one from another is to be attributed to the varying requirements of the ages in which they were promulgated." He also wrote: "The religion of God and the creed of God hath been revealed and made manifest from the heaven of the will of the king of pre-existence for the sake of union and harmony among the people of the world; make it not a means for disagreement and discord." "...from a fair-minded examination of the actual utterances of the Founders of the great religions, and of the social milieus in which they were obliged to carry out their missions, there is nothing to support the contentions and prejudices deranging the religious communities of mankind and therefore of all human affairs."
"In order to confirm the belief that we are all "the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch", created by the one Creator, and in order to assist in the progressive eradication of all forms of prejudice, disharmony and conflict, the Baha'i House of Worship, the most visited spot in Delhi, has been dedicated to all the peoples, irrespective of religious background. We would also like to offer our sincere congratulations and gratitude to His Holiness for having consented to be present at this platform where representatives of different religious communities can come together to appreciate the futility of stressing upon differences and the need to emphasize the commonalities which can lead to a harmonious world.
"The Baha'is would like to assure His Holiness of our prayers for a long life, good health and a safe journey home."
©Copyright 2000, National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of India