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May 18, 2001 – Sixteen Bahá'ís from the U.S. and British Virgin Islands will join more than 3,000 representatives of their faith from virtually every country and territory of the world in the coming week for the formal opening of a series of 19 garden terraces on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel, that is a demonstration of Bahá'í commitment to building world peace.
Haifa is the site of the Bahá'í World Center. The Terraces of the Shrine of the Bab there have been built over the last 14 years as a symbol of peace and unity of the world's diverse peoples.
The opening ceremony, to begin at dusk on May 22, will be broadcast live on television via satellite. An open-air concert at the base of the mountain will be the world premiere of an oratorio and symphony by contemporary composers from Norway and Tajikistan that will be performed by a full symphony orchestra and choir and well-known soloists. The climax of the ceremony will be the lighting of the terraces.
On the morning of May 23, indigenous musicians will perform and thousands of Bahá'ís from around the world, most in colorful national dress, will walk up the terraces for the first time. The week's festivities will end with a public opening, after which visitors of all faiths will be able to enjoy the gardens every day free of charge.
The Virgin Islands delegation left on Friday and most members are scheduled to return on May 27. The participants are: From St. Croix, Michele Harmer, Ethel Harris, Munirah Lewis, Kathy and David Odell and Virginia Rounds. From St. Thomas, Lynn and Rick Berry, Helga Blazkova-Berger, Justice and Verda Campbell, Susan Harmer, Dina Smith and Cathy Von Gonten. From St. John, Tony Scimeca. From Tortola, Jamie Roberts.
This group, like the other delegations that will gather in Haifa, is diverse in age (17-84 years), ethnic and racial makeup, and professional background.
Munirah, 17, and David, 18, are representing the Bahá'í youth of the Virgin Islands. Both attended a Bahá'í Youth Congress in the Dominican Republic last summer, as did Jamie Roberts, and both have taught Bahá'í children’s classes.
Munirah, a Good Hope School senior, is the daughter of Michele Harmer and Darryl Lewis and is a National Achievement Scholarship finalist and a member of Caribbean Dance Company. David, a senior at Country Day School, is the son of Kathy and Dan Odell and has worked with Bahá'í youth in Barbados and Jamaica.
Verda Campell, who recently moved to St. Thomas with her husband, Justice, is representing two groups at the terraces — the Virgin Islands and her Navajo people.
For most of the Virgin Islanders, this will be their first visit to Haifa. Making their second visit are Kathy Odell; Scimeca, whose previous visit was 25 years ago; and Rounds, whose first trip was 23 years ago. It's also a return for Von Gonten, who lived and worked at the World Center in 1987-89, and for Susan Harmer, who did so in 1988-1995 and has made two other previous visits.
Smith describes the terraces as a "great accomplishment … the creation of beauty in a peaceful manner in a region that is not known for its peace."
According to a Bahá'í web site, the opening of the terraces represents the culmination of a process that began more than a century ago, when Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í faith, revealed a tablet designating Mount Carmel as the spiritual and administrative center for the new religion. The remains of the Bab, the herald and martyr of the faith, were interred there in 1909, and his shrine is now sacred for Bahá'ís.
The complex of buildings, gardens and holy places known as the World Center has been developed over several decades. In 1987, the Bahá'í community undertook to complete the final phase, a series of terraced gardens on the face of Mount Carmel. Bahá'ís around the world contributed some $250 million toward the project, which entailed moving hundreds of tons of rock to reshape the mountain. The 19 terraces, designed by Canadian architect Fariborz Sahba, extend a full kilometer (five-eighths of a mile) up the slope.
For Bahá'ís, according to the web site, "completion of the terraces fulfills a dream of creating a spiritual and administrative center that reflects their faith's standards of beauty, peace and harmony, and fittingly represents its stature as an independent world religion."
To see a collection of photographs showing the terraces, visit the Israeli culture web site. There, at the bottom left, click on the green area titled "The Mount Carmel Terraces Official Opening," click again on the green box that pops up, and again on the "photos" and "new photos" options.

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