In Cuba, Baha'is celebrate a renovation

HAVANA, Cuba — Government officials and representatives of diverse religious groups in Cuba gathered with Bahá'ís in May to celebrate the opening of a newly reconstructed Bahá'í Center here.

First acquired in 1956, the central Havana Center had recently been completely rebuilt, and the 23 May 2005 celebration was held to open it to other religious communities.

In attendance were not only representatives from the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and African Yoruba religious communities but also Caridad Diego Bello, the chief of religious affairs in the Cuban government, and two other officials from her office.

Ms. Diego expressed her gratitude to the Bahá'í community for bringing together the diverse group and then spoke on the theme of interreligious harmony and about the major social principles of the Bahá'í Faith.

“These are principles that even I as a non-follower of any religion would agree with,” said Ms. Diego, who is a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba.

Among the Bahá'í social principles that Ms. Diego enumerated were the equality of women and men, racial equality, and the abolition of extremes of wealth and poverty.

The secretary of the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Havana, Ernesto Santirso, welcomed all the guests and read extracts from a 2002 letter to the world's religious leaders from the Universal House of Justice, the international governing council of the Bahá'í Faith.

That letter strongly endorses interfaith dialogue but also calls on religious leaders to recognize the “over-arching truth that called the [interfaith] movement into being: that God is one and that, beyond all diversity of cultural expression and human interpretation, religion is likewise one.”

After Bahá'í speakers read quotations from Bahá'u'lláh on religious harmony, the representative of the Jewish community, Jose Miller, addressed the gathering.

“Salvation comes from deeds and not from beliefs alone,” Dr. Miller said. “We should have deeds that will improve the condition of the world today and bring peace to our society.”

A representative of the Institute for Bible and Theological Studies said the three Bahá'ís currently studying Christian theology with the Institute were an important asset to the school.

Among the other guests were the chairman of the Islamic Association, Pedro Linares, and a high priest (babalao) of the African Yoruba religion, Stanislav Berboa.

Members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Cuba also hosted Ms. Diego and her staff on a tour of the center.

The Bahá'í community of Cuba has five Local Spiritual Assemblies and has another center in Camaguey. The community has regular children's classes, devotional meetings, and study circles where guests are welcome.

The first Local Spiritual Assembly in Cuba was established in Havana in 1941. The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Cuba was formed in 1961.

From the Bahá'í World News Service