With new restrictions in place due to the global coronavirus pandemic, Baha’is around the world are adapting to a life of social isolation, but still finding ways to nurture their communities.
The Baha’i Faith highlights the importance of valuing science and medicine, and Baha’is strive to always obey the directives of their local government. Because of this, communities in areas at risk no longer meet in person. They’re doing their part to practice social distancing and slow the spread of COVID-19. As so many of the activities of the global Baha’i community rely on in-person gatherings of people where prayer, studies, meaningful conversations, and acts of service take place, this has been no easy adjustment. But people all around the world have found creative ways to spend spiritually enlightening time together, especially during the time surrounding the Baha’i New Year.
BahaiTeachings.org reached out to a few communities around the world shortly after March 20 — Naw-Ruz, the Baha’i New Year — to learn about the creative ways in which people are connecting with one another. For Americans searching for ways to keep community life alive in the months ahead, these stories provide some helpful and encouraging ideas.
Vicenza, Italy is in one of the regions most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. But despite the increasingly dire conditions and the complete lockdown in place, Baha’is and their friends have not been robbed of their spirit. To celebrate Baha’i New Year, 14 families in Vicenza gathered over Zoom to say prayers and enjoy a video together, lifting each other’s spirits with friendship and prayer in a difficult time. They’ve found inspiration in each other, and in the ways the lockdown is changing the environment around them. As local Baha’i community member Ricardo Jaramillo wrote us, “the air is so pure… it’s incredible. You can now hear the birds clearly thanks to the lack of traffic.”
An Italian family hung an encouraging sign from their balcony in their hometown of Schio. It read “the world united against a virus that knows no boundaries” followed by a quote from Baha’u’llah, “The world is one country and mankind its citizens.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah)
Across the United States, communities are becoming similarly inspired as they brace for the impact of COVID-19. In Houston, organized Naw-Ruz celebrations had to be suspended in favor of social distancing, but families got together over Skype anyway to pray and sing some songs. Thirty miles from downtown Houston, one family in suburban Seabrook, Texas even baked a cake and showed it to the others over the video. While they couldn’t all taste it together, it added to the festive feeling of the video call! Similarly, a large video conference took place in Brooklyn, bridging the distance caused by the shelter-in-place order.
Many communities around the world got together to read a message from the international administrative body of the Baha’i Faith, The Universal House of Justice. An excerpt from this message that addresses the current crisis reads:
We are sure that you, like us, have felt great concern for the well-being of humanity, especially for those who are most vulnerable. Seldom has it been more evident that society’s collective strength is dependent on the unity it can manifest in action, from the international stage to the grassroots, and we know that you are giving your support to the essential efforts being made in this regard to protect the health and welfare of all. – The Universal House of Justice, Message of March 19, 2020
The Baha’is in Savannah, Georgia, were inspired by these words and carried out an act of service while also moving all activities online. They delivered packages of food with encouraging notes to their neighbors, letting them know they are thinking about them and keeping them in their prayers. Although all in-person activities have been suspended, friends continue to meet over WhatsApp, email, and Zoom to pray together, study together, and encourage each other.
“There has been a great deal of support and patience during this time, and we are finding that these online avenues are actually quite convenient,” Neha Zaer, a young Baha’i from Savannah, told us. “Some community members that previously had difficulty meeting in person are now able to meet virtually.”
The Baha’is in one area of Santiago, Chile, prepared a program with songs, prayers, and the message from the Universal House of Justice, along with some inspirational stories about the central figures of the Faith. The program was carried out over a call with 26 participants, all joyfully connected despite the distance. Similarly, friends in Uruguay decided to move all activities online to protect one another. They carried out a video conference featuring a short program of prayers for protection, unity and healing, as well as a special prayer for Naw-Ruz. Some friends had also prepared a video, which they watched as a community.
In Bogota, Colombia, an online Naw-Ruz celebration proved so encouraging, with prayers, art, games and even dances, that the community is eagerly awaiting their next video conference. As the Universal House of Justice stated:
Though having to adapt to new circumstances, the believers have used creative means to strengthen bonds of friendship, and to foster among themselves and those known to them spiritual consciousness and qualities of tranquillity, confidence, and reliance on God. The elevated conversations that have occurred as a result, whether remotely or in person, have been a source of comfort and inspiration to many.
Such efforts on your part provide a valuable service at this hour when many souls are perplexed and dismayed, unsure of what will be. However difficult matters are at present, and however close to the limits of their endurance some sections of societies are brought, humanity will ultimately pass through this ordeal, and it will emerge on the other side with greater insight and with a deeper appreciation of its inherent oneness and interdependence. – The Universal House of Justice, Ibid.
In El Salvador, planned celebrations were cancelled and each family celebrated the new year in their own homes, decorating their living rooms and hanging up lights. However, their yearly tradition of families visiting each other persisted in an unconventional way. “We did the same thing this Naw-Ruz, just over video calls!” joked Abril Herrera, a Salvadorean Baha’i youth.
In Spain, with families confined due to the state of emergency, the Baha’is have moved all activities online, such as prayer gatherings and youth gatherings. For Baha’i New Year, many communities carried out video conferences to celebrate. One celebration in Sabadell involved 36 households, connected via computer or mobile phone, with live music from children and adults, prayers and even friendly games everyone could participate in over the camera!
Marcos Galeano, who resides in Sabadell, explained the contents of the short speech he and his wife, Hoda Tahzib Roshani, gave in the video call. “We spoke about how Naw-Ruz is a new day, a new year, and how this is a New Day of God. Whenever a Manifestation of God has come, it’s been like the beginning of spring — a symbolic time of renovation, of change. This is our new spring.”
This time of change has brought with it many challenges, but these stories are inspiring evidence of the resilience and creativity of friends who are united in spirit, showing that even in the most unusual circumstances, we can always find ways to help and encourage one another. As the Baha’i writings say:
In a day such as this, when the tempests of trials and tribulations have encompassed the world, and fear and trembling have agitated the planet, ye must rise above the horizon of firmness and steadfastness with illumined faces and radiant brows in such wise that, God willing, the gloom of fear and consternation may be entirely obliterated, and the light of assurance may dawn above the manifest horizon and shine resplendently. – Abdu’l-Baha, as quoted by the Universal House of Justice in the Message of March 19, 2020