Sunday’s daybreak saw more than 1,000 people gather to celebrate a historic moment as Colombia’s first Baha’i House of Worship opened its doors to all.
Gathered in the shadow of the Temple, attendees awaited their visits to the interior of the central edifice as a spirit of joy and eager anticipation filled the air. The opening of the Temple marks a new stage in the unfoldment of the Baha’i Faith in Norte del Cauca, where the Faith has had roots for more than four decades.
“We can hardly bear the great joy we feel knowing that we now have a House of Worship here,” said Carmen Rodriguez, from the nearby town of Villa Rica, reflecting on the significance of the moment.
Buses arrived shortly after dawn with people filing to a large tent where the ceremony was held. Following opening presentations, the participants walked to the central edifice for prayers.
“I believe that the House of Worship is a very important spot for not only Norte del Cauca but also the whole region,” says Hender Martínez, from the nearby town of Santander de Quilichao. “The atmosphere inside the Temple is something totally unique. You feel tranquility and peace.”
Many attendees had participated in the early discussions about the design of the Temple during the months following its announcement in 2012 by the Universal House of Justice. “I was in those early community meetings about the creation of the House of Worship. Each person was able to contribute ideas and concepts for the design. Now, we can see the outcome of this process,” described Carlos Ever Mesur from the nearby village of Mingo.
Sunday’s opening included remarks from the representative of the Universal House of Justice, Mrs. Carmen Elisa de Sadeghian, local dignitaries, and the Temple’s architect. Mrs. de Sadeghian read a letter of the House of Justice addressed to the attendees. “This House of Worship stands now as a symbol of the beauty inherent in the noble people of this region and its design evokes the generosity of their land,” states the letter, dated 22 July 2018.
“This historical moment today is not the end of a process,” said Mr. Gustavo Correa, a former member of the Universal House of Justice who spoke at the opening. “It is a very significant step in an enterprise that aims to bring material and spiritual prosperity to a whole region.”
Ms. Jenny Nair Gómez, the mayor of Villa Rica, also addressed the audience in an uplifting talk that recalled the first time that her office was approached about the idea of a House of Worship. “We are very honored to have this House of Worship in Norte del Cauca,” she exclaimed. She was one of four mayors that attended the event.
In his talk about the history of the Faith in the region, former member of the Universal House of Justice Dr. Farzam Arbab said: “As we contemplate today after almost half a century of continuous progress, some words that characterize the peoples of the region and their aspirations come to mind: an enormous spiritual receptivity; a keen spiritual perception; a sincere respect for intellectual achievements; an immense capacity for joy and pain which embrace one another; an unpretentious kindness and generosity of heart; untamed determination; and a brilliance of spirit which the winds of oppression cannot extinguish.”
Music and traditional dancing was featured as a central part of the opening and captured the spirit of the event.
“The House of Worship: an emblem of our history, a symbol of progress for the entire region,” sang a musical group as dancers performed. The piece, titled “The Soul of Norte del Cauca,” is about the arrival of the Baha’i Faith to the region and how Baha’u’llah’s teachings are given expression in the hopes and aspirations of the people. The group also performed a song called “La Cumbia del Jardinero.”
Following the opening program, Mrs. de Sadeghian led the first of five groups to a devotional program inside the House of Worship. The program consisted of prayers and quotations from the Baha’i writings, some of which were sung by a choir. Each group remained afterward for a period of silent prayer before making way for the next set of inauguration participants.
The event Sunday marks the opening of a month-long inauguration period. In a series of weekly visits to the Temple, 1,500 people are expected to participate in a special program called “My First Visit to the Baha’i House of Worship.” The program will include many of the features of Sunday’s dedication ceremony, allowing many more people to participate in the historic opening of the Temple.
The dedication of the House of Worship in Colombia follows the opening of another local Temple in Cambodia in September and precedes the opening of five more Baha’i Houses of Worship. Temples in India, Kenya, Vanuatu, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Papua New Guinea are anticipated to open in the coming years.