Hands of the Cause of God:
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My personal experience with Dr Giachery was brief only, and on two occasions. The first was during my journey to pilgrimage. Travel arrangements had been disturbed by the Israeli-Egyptian Six-Day war towards the end of 1956 – the Suez Canal had been bombed and was blocked; shipping had to go around South Africa to get to Europe (this was just on the change-over between sea and air travel; sea was still the most common way but air travel was becoming attractive, and so I had planned the journey half and half, going there by ship and returning by air). The steamer that I eventually took was Italian – the Lloyd-Triestino line – and the ship was headed for Naples; I had planned to go there, take the train to Rome and fly from there to Israel.
Once Collis Featherstone knew of my plans he insisted I call on Dr Giachery in Rome and provided me with his address. Unfortunately, by the time I reached there, the address was no longer current. I had caught a late-night train from Naples and had arrived in Rome – frozen (I was quite unaccustomed to European winters) and weary, and had booked into a nearby hotel. In the morning I set out to find Dr Giachery, and spent the next two hours struggle, language-wise, with the taxi driver, noticing famous landmarks of the city, fountains and stuff, but not having the time nor the inclination to stop off for a closer look. Arriving at the apartment block, which was actually just outside the circle of St Peter’s Square – strange idea of geometry, these Romans have – I located the address but soon learned in broken English that the ‘doctor’ no longer lived there. But the current tenants did know where he was and I was soon knocking on the right door, to be greeted by Dr Giachery himself.
He displayed the absolute epitome of hospitality and once he knew it was a Bahá’í from Australia he ushered me into their small sitting room and insisted I make myself comfortable. Greetings over – I conveyed to him and Mrs Giachery the love and wishes of Collis and Madge; they had met each other at the New Delhi Conference – the first thing he asked me was: “Where is your passport?”. A little surprised I told him it was in my suitcase at the hotel – I had kept the room as I was uncertain what the day held for me. He immediately – and in a tone of unquestioned authority – told me to go and fetch it, the suitcase and the passport. He said: “Never, never leave your passport anywhere, not even in the house of Dr Giachery.” He was concerned lest it be stolen, having much experience in travelling himself and that was apparently a likely outcome. So he sent me, with someone else who seemed to know his way about, and we retrieved the suitcase and passport from its place of insecurity, and were soon back at Dr Giachery’s apartment.
They were apparently in the process of moving into their new quarters and he was busy, but he took the time to ask about the Faith in Australia, the community, the progress with the Plan – especially in the Pacific goal areas. He seemed very familiar with the situation there and was just seeking an update. Although I knew he was a member of the International Bahá’í Council and a Hand of the Cause, in my immaturity I did not realize how intimately he was involved in the Ten Year Crusade and its achievement. I was, however, deeply impressed by his awareness of the current affairs of the Faith and by his unique personality. I knew from Collis that he was from aristocratic Sicilian background, and he looked very much the part; I understood that through his family connections he was actually a count – and would have been using the title if he were not a Bahá’í. But his manner and demeanour were totally unexpected; along with the regal bearing that was an essential part of him, he had an endearing simplicity of nature, a warmth that was almost tangible, and an affection, almost reverence, for his wife, Angeline – he seemed to ‘look up to her’ as a Bahá’í – that seemed unusual, especially considering his own station in the Faith. One could almost put it down to the fact that he was Italian, and that was an Italian thing, but it was not that at all. It was simply that he adored her; her obituary in The Bahá’í World (volume 18) is signed by “Her inconsolable Ugo”.
My total time with Dr Giachery was only a few hours. He placed me in the care of another believer who was catching the same flight to Tel Aviv that night, an overnight flight leaving at midnight – a Persian Bahá’í, Fereydoun Khazrai, who later pioneered to Romania and was named a Knight of Bahá’u’lláh – and I spent the rest of the evening with him.
One comment the Guardian made while I was on pilgrimage adds another facet to the person of Ugo Giachery. His previous residence where he had been living for some time was, as I mentioned, just outside the perimeter of St Peter’s square, in an apartment block that belonged to the Vatican. At that time Pope Pius IX [note - should be Pius XII. -ed], who had held that office for many years, was suffering from a prolonged attack of hiccups, a condition that was quite worrying to his medical people, and one of the pilgrims offered a jocular suggestion that it may have been Dr Giachery’s close proximity to where the Pope was living. The comment had been made in jest but the Guardian took it seriously and replied that this was quite possible, that perhaps with Dr Giachery living so close his prayers had had some effect on the Pope. His comment not only indicated an attitude to the Pope’s spiritual receptivity which gives us much food for thought, but spoke volumes for the spiritual effect of Dr Giachery’s own prayers. [Note: in Recollections of Pilgrimage, Washington explains "... I was also surprised at his comment on the Pope's spirituality; he viewed him as a person, quite apart from the office he held in the Catholic hierarchy. I was reminded of this by some comment – by Violette Nahkjavani, I think it was – that Rúhíyyih Khánum had never criticised or made any negative remarks about any of the missionaries they had met during their travels together, because they were all spiritual people, doing what they thought was best..." -ed.]
My next contact with Dr Giachery – again, very brief – was in Sydney when he was representing the Universal House of Justice at the Intercontinental Conference there in October 1968. Dr Giachery spoke several times during the conference; once to deliver the message from the House of Justice and later about the beloved Guardian in whose service he had devoted his life – his love for the Guardian was so tangible that all in that gathering were moved to tears. We have only to read his Shoghi Effendi: Recollections to appreciate the relationship between them: his absolute devotion to the Guardian and the unstinting service he rendered him as member-at-large of the International Council and his assistance with the construction of the Shrine of the Báb and the International Archives building on Mount Carmel.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá had named five doors on the original tomb of the Báb in honour of outstanding believers of His time, who had rendered some service in connection with the building and the Guardian continued this practice, naming the doors on the extension to the building which he added not long after he assumed his stewardship in honour of three believers who had assisted him in the work. The door on the western side of this extension was named for Ugo Giachery, for his unforgettable services in directing the acquisition of the marble stone in Italy for the Shrine of the Báb and the International Archives. His obituary (The Bahá’í World, volume 20) records that the Guardian told Angeline, when they were on pilgrimage in December 1954, that he “would very much like to keep you and Ugo here indefinitely, but Ugo must return to Italy and start immediately to work on the International Archives”.
During one of his talks at the Sydney conference he was interrupted by a small child who had escaped from parental care and had wandered down the aisle towards the speaker. When she reached the stage, she looked up at him pensively, clutching her security towel and sucking the thumb. He broke off his discourse, smiled at her and said: “Hullo, little girl” – and then went on with his talk. He was completely unfazed and had the kindness to recognise the child and include her. She turned and toddled back to her embarrassed parents. The incident was another revelation of the humanity and love-for-all aspect of his character, and I remember it clearly because it was our daughter.
The believers who were fortunate to attend that conference fondly recall his words of encouragement, simple words spoken with his inimitable and delightful Italian accent, and delivered with a refined and noble demeanour that revealed his aristocratic background. He was truly unique – as each of the Hands were unique in their own way.
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