Bahais find sense of unity in `do-it-yourself' faith
By Eric Gorski
The (colorado springs) Gazette
Posted October 19 2002
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.· Like many converts to the Bahai faith, Rafael Castillo was drawn to the religion's messages of racial and sexual
equality and its acceptance of other faiths.
He wasn't prepared for the stricter elements of Bahai life.
At 36, Castillo
discovered he needed his parents' permission to marry.
He hadn't spoken to his father in 18 years. He didn't even know where he was.
So Castillo started calling every Luis Castillo in the Brooklyn, N.Y., phone book. No luck.
An uncle finally told Castillo his
father was recovering from being partially paralyzed in a car wreck. The next day, he drove with two siblings from Dallas to New
Once he got over the shock of seeing his estranged children, the father signed a card that allowed his son to take the first
step toward starting his own family.
"At first, I couldn't see a reason for it," said Castillo, now 41, happily married and working
as a Colorado Springs freelance photographer. "Afterward, it made sense."
It made sense because unity is central to the Bahai faith.
If all mankind is united, as Bahais believe, then it stands to reason that a family should stand united on a wedding day.
start in the mid-19th century in what is now Iran, the Bahai religion's unique blend of liberal and conservative beliefs has attracted
thousands of spiritual seekers such as Castillo, who was raised a Roman Catholic.
Nationally, experts say the religion's growth has
leveled off since the late 1960s and early 1970s, when its stands on equality and peace resonated strongly. An estimated 133,709 Americans
claim affiliation with the faith, and there are about 5 million adherents worldwide.
This weekend, the group will celebrate one of
its holy days: the birth of the Bab, who prophesied the coming of the founder of the Bahai faith, Bahaullah.
Some texts refer to the
faith as a Muslim sect. Most scholars, however, consider it a stand-alone religion with its own founding prophets and ideas.
Colorado Springs, Ernie and Barbara Bruss first heard about the faith on a beach in Hawaii in 1969. Both had been raised as Methodists and
later joined the Episcopal Church.
But Barbara Bruss, in particular, was searching spiritually.
The couple learned more
about the religion during a "fireside," an informal gathering at the home of a Bahai.
This soft-sell is typical of Bahais, who don't
proselytize and put great value on the individual search for truth.
In its strict moral codes, the Bahai religion is similar to
theologically conservative faiths such as Mormonism and evangelical Christianity, which are growing fast.
The faith has few rituals
and no clergy. Living as a Bahai means daily obligatory prayers, celebratory feasts and a 19-day fast each March, during which members
abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset.
There is no baptism in the Bahai faith. You just sign a card to convert.
"It's pretty much a do-it-yourself religion in that sense," said Judi Barnes of Colorado Springs. "You have to pitch in, make it work and be
a part of the community."
©Copyright 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel