Brazilian parliament honors leading Baha'i dignitary

In a special session, the Federal Chamber of Deputies honors Madame Mary Rabbání as an environmentalist and promoter of peace

BRASILIA, Brazil - The Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, the nation's highest legislative body, held a special solemn session on 14 August 1996 to honor Bahá'í dignitary Madame Mary Rabbání, who was visiting Brazil to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Bahá'í Faith in this country.

More than 90 representatives of Brazil's main legislative body were present for the two-hour session. Representing the full range of Brazil's political parties, some 14 deputies spoke, honoring Madame Rabbání as a defender of the environment, a promoter of world peace and unity,and a protector of the rights of indigenous peoples.

"Mrs. Rabbání," said Deputy Luiz Gushiken (Labor Party, São Paulo), " today we invited the Deputies and the friends of the Bahá'í Faith, to pay homage to you for everything which Your Honor has done in favor of a more just and more human society."

According to Roberto Eghrari, secretary of the Bahá'í community of Brazil, some 70 deputies signed the declaration calling for the session.

"The fact that deputies from all of the different parties and regions of Brazil called for and spoke at this session is a sign that they recognize the Faith as a unifying force in the country," said Mr. Eghrari. "Deputies from all sorts of philosophical and ideological backgrounds were involvedin the process."

Among her other accomplishments, Madame Rabbání was honored for her work in Brazil some 20 years ago, when she led a six-month expedition through the Amazon basin to survey the impact of development on the environment and indigenous cultures. Born out of Madame Rabbání's long-abiding concern for the environment and indigenous peoples, the expedition was a ground-breaking effort in the recognition of the importance of indigenous cultures and the need for their protection.

The widow of Shoghi Effendi Rabbání, who led the Faith from 1921 to 1957, Madame Rabbání is considered the highest ranking dignitary in the Faith and she travels widely to represent its interests. Since 1963, the Faith has been led by an internationally elected governing board.

The day after the session, Madame Rabbání met with President Fernando Henrique Cardoso at the presidential palace. They spoke about the environment, global governance, and the development of the Faith in Brazil, according to an aide to Madame Rabbání.

Two days after the special session, Madame Rabbání returned to the Amazon for a reunion with other members of the Amazon journey, known as the Green Light Expedition. In Manaus, capital of Amazonas state, she was honored at the city's famous opera house by some 400 people, who represented some 30 different state, municipal and non-governmental organizations from the region.

During her visit to Brazil, Madame Rabbání also addressed the First Latin American Conference on World Citizenship.

The speeches by the deputies in the 14 August special session, in addition to honoring Madame Rabbání, covered a wide range of topics related to the presence and activities of the Faith in Brazil, from its involvement in social and economic development projects to the efforts of the Brazilian Bahá'í community to promote unity and tolerance.

"In many cities," said Deputy Flávio Arns (Brazilian Social Democratic Party, Paraná), "in addition to the spiritual and moral development work, Bahá'ís also carry out projects in the economic and educational fields, such as School of the Nations in Brasília; the Monte Carmelo Association in Mogi Mirim, São Paulo; the Educational Centre of Salvaterra, in Salvaterra, Pará; and the Rural Poly-technical Institute in Iranduba, Amazonas."

Two deputies, Alzira Ewerton (Brazilian Popular Party, Amazonas) and Maria Valadão (Liberal Front Party, Goias), praised the Faith for its promotion of the principle of the equality of women and men. "The Faith of Bahá'u'lláh did not merely foresee equality in theory but, above all, presented a concrete model of how equality should become real in society," said Ms. Valadão.

Others spoke of the need for all to embrace the themes of tolerance, unity and respect that are promoted by the Faith.

"Only the bringing together of the spiritual forces of all origins -- and this is where I see that the Bahá'í Faith is a very strong example of tolerance for other beliefs -- will make us move forward."

-- Deputy Tilden Santiago of Minas Gerais

"I believe that only the bringing together of the spiritual forces of all origins - and this is where I see that the Bahá'í Faith is a very strong example of tolerance for other beliefs - will make us move forward," said Deputy Tilden Santiago (Labor Party, Minas Gerais). " Certainly, it is a very strong spiritual force that is needed to face the world of conflict and contradictions in which we live."