In country after country, preparations for the bicentenary of the birth of Baha’u’llah on 22 October 2017 are accelerating.
Globally, those preparations have given rise to a range of expressions, including works of art, tributes from national and local leaders, and community celebrations.
A striking example unfolded in the Austrian town of Bruck an der Leitha, where a festival for the 200th anniversary of the birth of Baha’u’llah was organized by the office of the Mayor on 8 September 2017. With nearly 200 people in attendance at the town hall, the celebration brought together community leaders and townspeople in honor of Baha’u’llah’s message of peace and unity.
Mayor Richard Hemmer emphasized the Baha’i teachings on unity in his remarks at the celebration. History has been stained by violence, he explained, and we should never forget the atrocities of the past. He pointed to the Baha’i community as an example of a group that has chosen a path of peace, nonviolence, and inclusion.
A local Baha’i, Sussan Zarifzadeh, worked with the mayor’s office to organize the event. Mrs. Zarifzadeh and her family have in recent years assisted refugees to settle in Bruck. It was this work that first drew the attention of the mayor and inspired him to offer to host a commemoration in honor of the Baha’i community.
Like many towns throughout Europe, Bruck an der Leitha—situated on the Leitha river near the border with Slovakia—has seen growing numbers of refugees from Syria and other countries. The town of Bruck had taken in a small number of migrants until 2015, when a number of tragic deaths of refugees in Austria drew attention to the issue. The community of Bruck was deeply affected and became determined to work more vigorously to ensure the successful settlement of refugees:
Be ye loving fathers to the orphan, and a refuge to the helpless, and a treasury for the poor, and a cure for the ailing. Be ye the helpers of every victim of oppression, the patrons of the disadvantaged. Think ye at all times of rendering some service to every member of the human race. Pay ye no heed to aversion and rejection, to disdain, hostility, injustice: act ye in the opposite way. Be ye sincerely kind, not in appearance only. Let each one of God’s loved ones centre his attention on this: to be the Lord’s mercy to man; to be the Lord’s grace. Let him do some good to every person whose path he crosseth, and be of some benefit to him. Let him improve the character of each and all, and reorient the minds of men. In this way, the light of divine guidance will shine forth, and the blessings of God will cradle all mankind: for love is light, no matter in what abode it dwelleth; and hate is darkness, no matter where it may make its nest. O friends of God! That the hidden Mystery may stand revealed, and the secret essence of all things may be disclosed, strive ye to banish that darkness for ever and ever. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 3.
The town formed an organization called Unser Bruck Hilft! (Our Bruck Helps!) to assist with the resettlement of refugees. Knowing that the Baha’i community had previously assisted a group of refugees from Turkey to settle in the town, the organization requested its help. Initially, the Baha’is offered practical assistance, such as arranging for medical care. Over time, they began working with others in the town to provide a program for the education and upliftment of the recently resettled youth.
The relationship between the local government of Bruck and the Baha’is there has grown over the last several years through their work together. The mayor’s decision to hold a celebration of the 200th anniversary of Baha’u’llah’s birth was a recognition of the contributions of the Baha’is to the local community.
The celebration, held at the town hall, was open to everyone in Bruck and the surrounding areas. The festivities included a number of musical performances, including an original choral composition of words of Baha’u’llah put to music. An exhibit featuring the main teachings of the world’s major religions highlighted the imperative of unity.
Many guests at the event expressed their appreciation that the bicentenary celebration allowed for every member of the community to contribute in some way. From a small performance by the local music school to presentations offered by government officials to the preparation of refreshments, many people helped with the festivities.
Dorothy Bayer of the Baha’i community commented, “The people of Bruck did not just come to enjoy the bicentenary celebration; they also contributed to it. And as a result, they came closer together and grew in consciousness about the need to work for the betterment of the world.”