Australian Baha'i Sites

‘Somewhere not on this earth’: Experiencing the inauguration of Papua New Guinea’s House of Worship 

Visitors to the Papua New Guinea (PNG) national Baha’i House of Worship have described feelings of “amazement and awe, peace and joy” after attending the inauguration of the temple in May. 

More than 4,000 people from across PNG and beyond gathered in Port Moresby for the inauguration gathering, with a special program featuring artistic and cultural performances in celebration of the historic occasion. 

The gathering followed the dedication ceremony, which was attended by more than 1,000 people from across PNG including government officials, religious leaders, members of civil society, representatives of local and national Baha’i institutions, and many others from a variety of backgrounds. 

The Papua New Guinea House of Worship inauguration gathering featured artistic and cultural celebrations, with more than 4,000 people in attendance from all walks of life. Image credit: bwns.org

Four representatives from the Australian Baha’i community were invited to attend the inauguration program. Australia’s Roya Shahgholi, who is also the temple director of Australia’s Baha’i House of Worship in Sydney, said while it was difficult to put to words the emotions experienced during the event, the feeling was “that you are somewhere not on this earth, witnessing and feeling joy of the immense progress of the Faith, as more and more national and local Houses of Worship are being built”.

She said witnessing the growth of community-building efforts across PNG instilled a sense of hope in the emerging possibilities that lay ahead for Sydney’s own Baha’i temple – particularly in the field of social action – and across the globe as more Houses of Worship were established.

“It’s a gift from the Baha’is to humanity and it represents so nicely this concept of worship and service. Not only is it a place for prayer, but it supports the social and economic progress of the community. It strengthens bonds of unity from heart to heart and it’s a ‘collective centre of men’s souls’.”1 

The four representatives of the Australian Baha’i Community and representative of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Australia at the inauguration of the Baha’i House of Worship in Papua New Guinea.

Shakib Fakhra from Melbourne’s Knox community said the atmosphere was “deeply moving”, and the stories and reunion of the early Baha’i pioneers “especially touching”. 

“Reflecting on the impact of individual decisions to pioneer (to PNG), it became clear how much of a blessing it is to live such a life,” Shakib said. “Pioneers leave familiar surroundings to spread Baha’u’llah’s teachings in new territories, and their dedication can profoundly affect the lives of those they encounter. Living a pioneering life is challenging, yet deeply fulfilling, marked by service, love, friendship and spiritual growth. 

“It’s truly heartening to witness the depth of spiritual capacity among the Baha’is in Papua New Guinea. Their humility, devotion, sense of ownership, happiness, and unity shine brightly as beacons of inspiration.” 

Cecilia Davern from Cairns said the majesty and beauty of the House of Worship was imposing and magnetic, welcoming all those who approached it to its warm and loving embrace.

“When I first entered the House of Worship, I was overcome by a very strong emotion I had experienced when entering the shrine of the Bab and Baha’u’llah for the first time … I struggled to contain my emotion without bursting into a sobbing mess,” she said.

Participants of the ceremony included government officials, religious leaders, members of civil society, representatives of local and national Baha’i institutions, and many other people from across the country. Image credit: bwns.org

Anisa Domingo from south Perth said the harmonious sounds of the Papua New Guinea choir filled the air as she walked up the hill towards the temple, their voices beautifully praising Baha’u’llah.

“As the House of Worship came into full view, its magnificent structure and the light reflecting off its woven exterior were breathtaking,” she said.

Anisa said It was touching to witness the profound love and strong friendship between the local friends and the pioneers, despite decades of separation.

“The Inauguration of the House of Worship was an opportunity for me and for many others to look to and learn from our friends in Papua New Guinea. It was an opportunity to see the road ahead. To witness what becomes (of) a nation where service and worship is a prevalent culture of society, to witness the fruits of a seamless educational process, where children are raised up through the Institute and become youth who spearhead community-building efforts. To see a glimpse of the society-building powers of the Faith when the local population takes charge of its development.”

The representative from the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Australia, Reena Torabi, said it was “truly humbling” to witness the ‘purity of heart, deep spirituality and unshakeable faith'2 inherent in the people of Papua New Guinea.

“The spirit of devotion, service and sacrifice by so many was apparent in not only the fact that large groups of locals from all Papua New Guinea had travelled for days on foot to be present on this occasion but also in the collective action of the population in contribution to the emergence of this edifice over the years,” she said.

Participants at the inauguration also had the bounty of viewing the portraits of the Bab and Baha’u’llah, an opportunity typically only afforded to those who attend pilgrimage at the Baha’i World Centre.

The interior dome of the Papua New Guinea House of Worship. The sacred Baha’i symbol known as the Greatest Name has been placed at the apex of the dome of the temple. The Greatest Name is a calligraphic representation of the invocation “O Glory of the All-Glorious.” Image credit: bwns.org

With a unique woven exterior inspired by traditional weaving, the Baha’i House of Worship’s design is symbolic of unity and the coming together of people of different backgrounds from across PNG. 

Secretary of the Baha’i National Spiritual Assembly of PNG, Confucius Ikoirere, spoke about the significance of the temple, saying the House of Worship was the crowning achievement of all the efforts of the past, and “a beacon of light and hope for the future.” 

Another member of the National Spiritual Assembly, Tony Lakame, said each component of the structure represented a story of love, sacrifice and perseverance. 

An aerial view of participants at the dedication ceremony gathered outside the temple. Image credit: bwns.org

The Governor of the National Capital District, Powes Parkop, highlighted the unifying power of the House of Worship in a land enriched with diverse ethnic groups. 

“The House of Worship is not just a physical structure. It is a beacon of light inviting all to come together in prayer, in reflection, and in harmony. We are many, yet we are one,” he said. 

“Without peace we cannot have a prosperous country. … Our nation will be greater; our people will prosper when we embrace this fundamental virtue that is the cornerstone of all faiths. 

“We must seek to blend all this diversity into a peaceful, livable, thriving city that is the beacon of light for a nation of 1,000 tribes.” 

Footnotes

  1. ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, p. 95[]
  2. The Universal House of Justice, To the Friends Gathered in Port Moresby, 25 May 2024[]

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Published in June, 2024, in Baha'i Institutions > Events

Available online at: horizons.bahai.org.au/bahai-institutions/somewhere-not-on-this-earth-experiencing-the-inauguration-of-papua-new-guineas-house-of-worship/

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