This earth is but a pilgrim’s path,
For man’s tired feet to tread,
Traveling far to search his quest,
Trusting God, his Fountain-head.
To Begin at the Beginning
It was while World War II raged during the early hours of 3rd November 1942, that I made my entry onto this world stage. The family I was born into were staunch Roman Catholic, and the very next day my grandmother rushed me off to the local Catholic Church to be baptised, thus I was brought up in the Roman Church which was to serve me well. During my childhood years I developed a great love for Mary, the Mother of Jesus but like so many others of my generation, by the time I was a teenager, I had developed a scant regard for religion though I still retained a real fear of eternal damnation. According to the Church teachings, to miss mass on Sunday was to commit mortal sin and to die in such a state would directly send one to the fires of Hell. Enough to say, I attended mass without fail every week.
Incredible as it might seem, with all my negative feelings about religion, that love I once had for the Virgin Mary still lingered somewhere in the depths of my subconscious mind, and it started periodically to surface to my conscious mind, so much so that in time I started to have a yearning to follow in the footsteps of my paternal grand-mother by visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, situated in the foothills of the Pyrenees in the South of France. Then one day, the opportunity presented itself and in 1969 I experienced a private pilgrimage to Lourdes, thus fulfilling my dream. My time at this great Catholic Shrine was very spiritual, even though I was there alone and in such appalling weather.
Back in Cardiff, life went on much as before. I was now attending mass each evening and mixing with lots of people at the Young Men’s Catholic Rugby Club, and I became more involved in the good works and activities that the club members undertook. Then, one evening, while enjoying a pint of beer, a young priest suggested that I might like to visit the Religious Order’s mother house for a spiritual retreat.
I set off to spend Holy Week and the Easter weekend of 1971 with this religious community. It was during that visit that I was persuaded to return to spend Christmas of that year with the Religious Order, which I did. Back home again, I carried on with my life just as before, but over the months that followed, I was becoming increasingly more interested in the Religious way of life, so much so, that I discussed it with my girlfriend and she was of the opinion that I should give the Religious Order a try, as she felt that I might have regrets if I did not. In reality, she did not expect me to stay there for long.
It was during my Holy Week and Easter visit of 1972, that I made up my mind to enter the Order. There had been a gradual but radical change in my life since my pilgrimage to Lourdes in 1969 and my first visit to the religious community, and now, in September 1972, I entered the Religious Order as a Postulant. It was a time to learn about the founder and of the Religious Institution itself and about living the life as a member of the community. After the six-month trial period as a postulant, I returned home for a short visit and prayerfully contemplated what to do next. Having decided to enter the monastic life, I returned and formally requested Father Provincial to accept me into the Order. Once accepted, I became a novice and was assigned a Novice Master who instructed me in the rules of the Order, living the life and preparing me for the time when I would take my vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
It proved hard adapting to living in a religious community as well as dealing with my own short-comings, and to make matters worse, my struggles were an open book for all to see. All too often I had to suffer unsolicited comments and advice from various members of the community that were never helpful. Over time, I gradually sank into depression that lasted about eighteen months; a time I referred to as my ‘pit of desolation’. I gradually got over this through the efforts of prayers, meditation and the support of a couple of the members of the community. Then one day I came across a quote by Martin Luther King that said: ‘Be Honest to God’. It was a phrase that hit home, a simple few words that one could easily have missed, but thankfully the deeper meaning behind these words impacted on me. I realised then that God already knows whatever is in our hearts, so to tell Him differently was not being honest. Often I would pray such words as “I love Thee Jesus, I love Thee with all my heart”, but the honest truth was I did not love Him with all my heart, rather, I desired to do so and that is a big difference. Once having realized this truth, I went to the chapel and after praying for some time, I suddenly lost my temper with God, letting Him know exactly what was in my heart and complained bitterly that He never listened to my prayers, or worse, He never answered them. Instantly, I felt the depression draining out of me, like bath-water going down the plug-hole, and since that day I have not suffered any such like depression. Nevertheless, I had to apologise to Jesus for losing my temper but also thank Him for answering my prayer and for teaching me the lesson on being honest to God.
About this time, I had an invitation to go on a second pilgrimage to Lourdes, this time as a helper with an organised pilgrimage from Kent, in the South of England. I spent some time in prayer, and other spiritual activities, as well as looking after my charge, Dominic, a young boy who was seriously ill and who gave up his spirit shortly after returning from Lourdes.
On 27th July 1975, I eventually took my vows. A special service had been arranged in the presence of my parents and the members of the whole of UK Religious Community where I read my vows aloud, thus becoming a full member of the community and, for the first time, wore the roman collar and cassock.
During the summer of 1976 I was moved to the North of England to help out with a small community of priests who taught at the local Catholic school. It was a lack-luster time for me and gave me little sense of fulfilment, and eventually I became increasingly unhappy. It soon came to the notice of Father Rector. He was an amazing priest and very understanding and supportive, and it was suggested, during a consultation with him, that maybe the Religious Community had served its purpose. Having agreed, the rector sought permission from Fr. General in Rome to release me from my vows. He also agreed that I could remain living with them in the house as a guest until such time as I decided what I wanted to do.
Again I was invited to go to Lourdes for my third pilgrimage, with an organized pilgrimage from Leeds. Just prior to leaving for Lourdes, I was informed that my request to leave the Order had been granted and suddenly I was no longer obligated by my vows, although it took some time for me to get used to it. It was midsummer 1977 and, after five years, my life as a Religious Brother was over, but hopefully much the richer spiritually and more mature because of it. Suddenly it was the last day of the Leeds Pilgrimage, and for some unexplained reason I decided to remain behind in Lourdes to be a helper to other sick pilgrims.
Back in England in 1978, I enrolled on a one-year full time Reprographic Technique Training Course, at Kitson College in Leeds. My life, with all its twists and turns, seemed to be changing for the better.
While at college, I soon made some interesting friends, and strangely, they were all from the Middle East and all Muslims. There were Iraqis, Jordanians, Egyptians, Kurds, Palestinians and one Iranian, named Hamíd. Hamíd and I, being the odd ones out of the group, developed an independent friendship, and we would meet up at weekends, share a meal and play chess. It was later in 1978, while Hamid, who was often listening to the news from Irán with regard to the upheavals there – the Shah’s Peacock Throne was being rocked by the Islámic Revolutionary Movement – that was the trigger to Hamid and myself comparing our faiths and the differences between Christianity, from a Catholic perspective, and Islám.
I was fascinated to hear the claims of Muhammad, the Founder of Islám, though of course I could never accept Muhammad as a Prophet, as I believed that the only one true religion was the Catholic Church. As Hamíd was a Muslim, I tried to correct his understanding of Christianity and bring him to the reality of the one true faith of Catholicism, especially as I truly believed that Christ was God made man. Hamíd, on his part, did the same by trying to convince me of the reality of Muhammad and his faith. It was total stalemate, when one day, perhaps out of frustration at being unable to convince me that Muhammad was a true Prophet of God, Hamíd suddenly asked. “If you cannot accept Muhammad, what about the Bahá’ís?”
“The WHO?” I spurted out in reply. “I’ve never heard of them.”
“Well they believe Christ has returned already,” he volunteered.
“Ha! Are you kidding me?” I laughed.
“No! That is what they believe.”
“There is no way! Really, I would know if Christ had returned, because I’m a Catholic and just spent five years in a monastery studying the Bible and other religious matters. There is no way that Christ could have returned. I would know for sure.”
“Well they will argue to the contrary and you’ll never win an argument with them, believe me, I have tried”, he declared with a smile.
“Of course I would. I am well versed in the Bible and your friend would not win an argument with me”, I said with conviction. Hamíd simply smiled and the conversation petered out as we turned our attention back to more pressing matters such as our game of chess.
It was a few hours later when we were having a meal, that I suddenly asked Hamíd. “Can I meet your Bahá’í friend?” This request was a total surprise to both of us, and I really had no idea why I suddenly asked it. I loved the Catholic faith and was totally convinced that my religion was the one and only true faith, and I had no inclination to look at any other faith, be it Islám, the Moonies, or this Bahá’í Faith. Yet here I was asking my Muslim friend to meet his Bahá’í friend, a member of a faith with a strange name and outlandish claims. My sudden request had not been planned or thought of beforehand. It just popped out of nowhere.
“Why?” Hamíd asked.
“I really don’t know,” I replied.
Then as the conversation continued, Hamíd confessed that he used to rip up Bahá’í pamphlets when he first came to the UK and put them in the rubbish bins in college, but stopped after he met and befriended a Bahá’í.
“Why?” I asked.
“Muhammad is the Seal of the Prophets,” he said, “and we believe that there are no other prophets after Him. So we believe the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith to be a false prophet.”
“Just as Christians feel about Muhammad and your faith” I said. “We do not accept Muhammad as a true prophet either, only Christ.”
As time passed, I forgot all about my request to meet with Hamid’s Bahá’í friend. I was well into my training at college when sometime in early February 1979 I entered the college refectory for a morning coffee break and saw Hamíd sitting with a group of Iranian friends. I walked over to him and he invited me to join them. He then proceeded to introduce me to his friends, followed by some pleasantries and general chat, until it was time to return to class. As we all started to leave, one named Vafa Fakhri started chatting with me, walking me slowly to the lift. Then, coming to a standstill, he waited for the others to go into the lift and as the door closed, he said, “Hamíd tells me you want to talk to me about the Bahá’í Faith”. I was taken by surprise, as I had completely forgotten that I had asked Hamíd, but simply replied that I was curious about it as I had not heard of it before. We remained there talking while Vafa asked about my beliefs, Vafa agreeing to those aspects where we found common ground. Suddenly, before we knew it, we had both missed two class sessions, and there was an instant bonding between us, both being comfortable as we talked about our faiths. From then on, we would meet regularly with Hamíd for coffee or lunch in the college refectory and thus started a new and interesting friendship, though the Bahá’í Faith was never mentioned in the company of other Iránian friends other than Hamíd.
As the friendship grew, Vafa invited Hamíd and myself to his apartment which soon became a regular Sunday afternoon get-together to play guitar.
On entering Vafa’s place, I saw a picture of an elderly Iranian gentleman, whom I wrongly assumed to be Vafa’s grandfather, but soon learnt was ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Son of Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith. Also on the wall was a small wall hanger, woven like a carpet with Arabic wording skillfully worked into it. Vafa told that this was the symbol of the Greatest Name.
Of course not all the time was spent playing guitars, as much time was given to discussing our different faiths. Up until that time, Vafa had continued to ensure that we only discussed what we had in common. Other than that, he always referred to the Prophets as Manifestations of God. It was the first time I had heard this word, thus I was greatly impressed with Vafa’s knowledge and command of English.
In time, we were able to talk more direct about our faiths. So, one day, Vafa approached a subject that had been mentioned previously in passing. “You mentioned that you believe in the Trinity. Can you explain the Trinity to me? You said there are three persons in One God, is that correct? How can this be?”
“Yes, that is what we believe, but it is a mystery of God” I explained.
“A mystery? Why is it a mystery? Can you not explain that?”
“It is not possible”, I replied. “One cannot possibly understand it in this life, because it is a mystery of God.”
“I can explain it” he said.
“No, it really is impossible,” I argued, “Even St. Augustine, one of the great Doctors of the Church, confirmed that it is impossible to understand the Trinity, and said that if you took a bucket full of holes you could put the sea into that bucket before you could explain the mystery of the Trinity.” Hamíd now became interested, as this was now becoming a real debate and wondered how this would be answered.
“It is very simple,” insisted Vafa.
“I don’t think so,” I said, “I am absolutely sure it’s impossible, but If you think you can, go ahead and try.”
Vafa first explained how Christ could never be God. He went on to explain that the Creator cannot become His Own Creation, just as an artist cannot become his painting. Nonetheless, you can recognize the artist in the painting and likewise, you can see God the Creator manifested in Christ, but God can never become human Himself, because to do so, He would cease to be God.”
Though I had never thought of it like that, I replied. “But God is All-Powerful and can do anything.”
“Great as God is, there are certain things He cannot do as God, and to become a man is one of them. It would mean He could no longer be God, so that is impossible.”
I quietly contemplated what I had just heard. It was the first direct challenge to my beliefs, and though I respected Vafa’s belief, I could not accept it as being possibly true and challenged this statement by saying that the Bible says that Christ and God are One.”
“Yes that is true, but by the term Christ and God is one, does not mean they are the one and the same person. It means they are one in their aims, which ultimately is the spiritual transformation of every human soul. This is what is meant by the union between Christ and God, not that they are the one and the same person, but that they are united as one in their actions.” Then Vafa went on to explain what the true Trinity really was. He asked me. “What are the attributes of the sun?”
“Heat and light,” I replied.
“That is correct and if we turn a mirror to the sun, you would see the light and feel the heat of the sun reflected from the mirror, correct?”
“Yes, that is right,”
“But that does not mean that the sun has become the mirror or that the sun has entered the mirror, even though the mirror manifests or reflects those same attributes of the sun. Do you agree?”
“Yes, of course.”
“And you will see, the sun is still in the sky and not descended to become the mirror. Well, in the same way Christ reflects all the attributes of God here on earth, even though God is still in heaven. In other words, Christ is like a perfect mirror who reflects perfectly all the attributes of God and that is what is meant by Manifestation of God. Christ manifests the Glory of God and makes known God’s Will to mankind. So, for the same reason that the sun can never enter or become the mirror, for if it did it would destroy it, likewise, God can never become Christ, but Jesus fully manifests the Light of God in all its brilliance. In other words, God does not take on a human form. Simply put, Christ is the mouthpiece of God; He is the Messenger, and through Him we are informed of God’s Will to mankind.”
I was so shocked by the simplicity of the explanation that I nearly fell off my chair. I had to admit it made sense and it was the first of many shocks to hit at the foundations of my belief. Hamíd’s and my eyes met, and I saw Hamíd simply raise his eyebrows, which I did back to him. Suddenly Vafa interjected with a question.
“What in your opinion is the greatness of Christ?”
“Well His Miracles of course,” I replied confidently.
“But miracles cannot be proven, so one cannot say they are proofs as to His greatness.” Vafa explained.
“Well it says in the Bible that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, healed the leper, made the blind to see and the cripple to walk.”
“Yes, it is true that these things are written there, and Christ was fully capable of doing those miracles, but they are not proofs in themselves, as we only have hearsay to rely on for evidence. At best, such miracles would be proof only to those who witnessed them, not to anyone else. No one can be absolutely sure that they happened. Besides, Moses, Muhammad, the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh all performed miracles, just as great and dramatic as those ascribed to Christ, and yet, you do not believe that Muhammad or Bahá’u’lláh are Prophets. You claim the Divinity of Christ and reject Muhammad because you were born into the Catholic or Christian faith. Had you been born of Muslim parents, you would believe in Muhammad, just like Hamíd. Had your parents been Jews, you would have been brought up as a Jew and rejected Christ. So miracles cannot be counted as His greatness nor can they be proved. Had you been born into a Párán family, you would have believed in Zoroaster and rejected Moses and all the others that have come since Zoroaster’s time. So, to say that all the other Prophets and Religions are false except Christ is, in effect, to disprove Christ as a Prophet, and leave Christianity as nothing more than a lie.”
Again my eyes met with Hamíd who gave me the expression, “I told you so!”
But my expression back was, “No!”
There followed a long silence before I asked. “Who is Zoroaster?”
“He was an ancient Persian Prophet Whose Teachings influenced the Israelites, such as Daniel, when the Jews were taken as prisoners by the Persians as recorded in the Old Testament,” he replied.
On another occasion, Vafa asked me to explain the Eucharist.
“After the substantiation or consecration of the bread and wine by the priest, during holy mass, we believe that it becomes the actual body and blood of Christ, though retaining its substance and appearance of bread and wine,” I explained.
“I see,” said Vafa. “And then you eat this?
“Yes, as instructed by Christ when at the Last Supper He broke bread and gave to his disciples and said, ‘Take this and eat. Do this in remembrance of Me’. So every day when I, and many thousands all around the world, go to mass to receive communion, we eat the body and drink the blood of Christ, but in the form of bread and wine.”
“So what you are actually saying is that you, and thousands like you around the world, eat this bread whenever you go to mass, which you believe has been turned into the real Body of Christ, yet still looking and tasting like bread and wine.”
“Yes, exactly that!”
“And then this becomes part of you like any other food, I assume.”
“Yes, in a nut-shell. We believe that it becomes part of us”, I confirmed.
“Mmmm, I see,” remarked Vafa.
The following week, Vafa asked. “Tell me about your saints. You have many saints I believe. So how does one become a saint?”
“Well by living a holy life of course and when they are canonised by the Church. For example, many people have had visions of Mary the Mother of Jesus or of Jesus Himself or other saints, though such apparitions usually appear to children but sometimes to some saintly adults also. I assume children are chosen because of their innocence, as they would not be able to make up such stories or lies. After such apparitions, those visionaries are often transformed and become very spiritual people, with many being declared as saints by the Church.”
“Ok”, he said followed by a long silence. “So, what you told me last week was that all over the world, there are thousands of people just like you, who actually believe that the bread and wine becomes the body of Christ, and that each of you believes that you have a physical contact with the real Jesus when eating this bread which has now been transformed into Christ, though it still looks and tastes like bread.”
“Yes, that is right.”
“And there are these others, mostly children you said, who see ghosts that look like the Mother of Jesus or others, and these visionaries or children ultimately become saints.”
“Yes, that is about right, but we would not call them ghosts. They are apparitions,” I explained. Again, there followed another long silence. Hamíd still remained silent throughout sitting cross-legged on the floor the same as Vafa and me, taking it all in. From time to time, he would give me a quizzical look as if to say, you are not winning the argument, but I would respond in like manner with an expression that indicated that I was.
“But surely,” cut in Vafa, his sudden intervention bringing us both back to the present. “How is it that those who see a ghost or, as you say, apparition, become saints, whereas thousands of you all have a physical contact with Christ when you eat Him in the form of bread and yet I do not see saints? Surely there should be thousands of really saintly people walking around.
Hamid’s and my eyes made contact again, and his Muslim friend gave him an expression that said, “I told you!” Though I saw the logic of the argument, I was unable to come up with a plausible explanation. But neither did it persuade me away from his belief that Christ was God, even though I was now feeling somewhat unsure of myself and uncomfortable being faced with such probing questions. Even though I was defending my own belief, I was starting to feel less certain about many of them, which left me somewhat confused. Even with such doubts and uncertainties creeping into my mind, I still wanted to know more. Something inside me was driving me on, though what it was I had no idea. I was after all, still a committed and practising Catholic.
Then one day, Vafa asked me “When do you expect Christ to return?
“Sometime in the future,” I replied, though by now I was feeling less confident whenever Vafa asked me a question.
“But the Christians have been saying ‘in the future’ for over 2000 years and still you are waiting”
“Well that’s because He has not come yet,” I replied.
“Well maybe He has,” stated Vafa. “You know it says in the Bible that He will come like a thief in the night and will be in the house without the owner knowing. So maybe he has already come and you do not know it yet. I mean, you are always looking to the future, but you know the future has to become today and eventually yesterday, correct?”
“Yeah of course, that’s true,” I replied hesitantly, not knowing where this was leading to.
“So is it not then possible that Christ could return today, but you would miss Him or reject Him, simply because you are always looking to the future?”
“Yeah that is possible, but, Christ said He would call the faithful and we would recognise Him…”
“So what if the clergy failed to tell you Jesus had returned already? Maybe they have already rejected Christ’s second coming just as the Jews rejected His first coming. Is that not possible? Because you always have a future expectation, so you and the Church would not recognise him if He came today or perhaps you have missed Him already. For example, we Bahá’ís believe that Christ has come again in the Glory of the Father in the last century, as promised, yet you are all still waiting. Am I right?”
“Yeah I suppose so, but I am sure I would have heard by now” I replied,
“Well, what I am trying to say is that you and every other Christian keep looking to the future and because that is where you expect Him to come, you forget that future point has to become the present and eventually the past, so most likely, you will miss Him again, because you still expect him in the future. If you keep looking only to the future, you will not see or accept Him in the present, if He should come. You have to agree, the day that He eventually comes will, in fact, be the present time, not the future where you will still be expecting Him, and then it will be yesterday, thus you would have missed Him.”
“OK, I take your point, so let us assume he has already come, then surely by now we would have heard?”
“Maybe or maybe not. In fact, you may have heard about it in passing, but not comprehended the truth and push such an idea aside. Put it this way, if I was to tell you that Christ had returned and was walking up the High Street at this very moment, would you go and investigate it and to see if it was Christ or not?”
“Well yes of course! I would want to see Him.”
“So if I tell you now that Christ has already returned, will you now investigate the claims? In other words, would you go and see if it is Him or would you simply reject and deny such an idea?”
I was feeling a bit cornered, but felt obliged to say, “of course, I would. I would need to know if it was really Christ come again and to be sure He is not a false prophet as the Bible has warned. But to be honest, I doubt He has come yet.”
“Of course, I know and it is important that you have proof, but how would you recognise Him? How would you know that it is truly Him?”
“I don’t know.” I replied thoughtfully. “Maybe I will be guided by the Holy Spirit to recognise Him.”
“OK, so to know the truth, you would need to investigate any of the claims He has made to be sure it is truly Christ, correct?”
“Yes that is true.”
“So now, I am telling you He has returned already.”
“Ok, so where is He now?”
”Not walking up the High Street, that’s for sure“, he said with a laugh. “He has, in fact, already come and gone, physically at least,” explained Vafa, and then added. But it is late and you need to rest. We can talk of this more next time.” As I was making ready to depart, I asked if Vafa had a book that I could borrow. Vafa gave me a small book ‘An Introduction to the Bahá’í Faith’ by Gloria Faizi.
The following Sunday, we met again as usual and I voiced my doubts that Christ could have returned and asked when this was supposed to have happened.
“He came during the nineteenth century.”
“The nineteenth century? Well surely I would have heard before now, if He had returned that long ago. The Church and especially the Pope would have known by now, because he is the Vicar of Christ and His representative on earth.”
“The Pope did know,” Vafa informed him, “he actually received a Tablet or Letter from Bahá’u’lláh informing him that He, the Lord of Lords had come again, and that he, the Pope, should turn to Him as his Lord. Unfortunately, just like the Kings of his time, your Pope ignored the Tablet. You will obviously know from the Bible how the Pharisees and High Priest had rejected Christ’s first coming, well like them, your High Priest, the Pope, also refused to accept Bahá’u’lláh, and because of that he lost the Vatican State as warned by Bahá’u’lláh in the Tablet. It was shortly after receiving the Tablet that King Victor Emanuel marched on Rome and took most of the Vatican State and made the Pope a prisoner of the Vatican. So you see, he and the more recent popes have known of Christ’s return, and each has failed to inform the people of this long awaited event.”
I was taken aback when Vafa mentioned that the Pope became a prisoner of the Vatican, as he had heard that the Popes had once seen themselves as prisoners of the Vatican up till Pope John Paul II, who was the first of the Popes to leave the Vatican and travel around the world. Nevertheless, I had not known the reason that the Popes had become prisoners and this revelation by Vafa was a great surprise to me. Nevertheless, I could not accept what Vafa was saying and said. “I find that hard to believe that the Popes knew. Which Pope was it that received the tablet?”
“It was Pope Pius IX.” Vafa replied instantly.
I was astonished that Vafa could name the actual Pope and I secretly admitted how impressed I was with Vafa’s knowledge and how well he presented his argument. In fact, he seemed to know Christian subjects better than I did. Nevertheless, not for a minute could I believe that Christ had returned, let alone a hundred years before, nor could I accept that the Pope would have rejected Christ’s return out of hand or that any such letter or Tablet had been sent to him, but I did become even more intrigued. The following Sunday when we met, little or no time was given to playing music together, as the conversation always turned to the Bahá’í Faith. Sometimes, Vafa would tell me some of the history of the Faith and show me photos of early Bahá’ís published in a book called ‘The Dawn Breakers’, which I always found very interesting. At our next meeting, I eventually asked. “Some time ago you asked what the Greatness of Christ was, but failed to tell me. So tell me, what is the greatness of Christ?”
“It is the Words of Christ; His Teachings and the fact that against all odds, Jesus established His Church even though all the powers of the Jewish State and the Romans were against Him. With no help from anyone, Jesus achieved what no king could do, and even today, after more than two thousand years, His words can still change the hearts and souls of countless millions of people. That is the greatness of Christ; that is the most outstanding miracle ascribed to Jesus that matters and a proof in itself. And likewise it is the Words and Writings of Bahá’u’lláh that will prove He is Who He says He is. Just like Jesus, the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh are also changing the hearts of many thousands around the world. Surely this is a faith that needs to be investigated.”
By this time, I came to the conclusion that for anyone to make such a claim as to be the Founder of a faith, especially in the light of all that Bahá’u’lláh had suffered for His claim, as well as the forty years as an Exile and a Prisoner, such a man would have to be totally mad or be Who He claims to be. So I concluded that there was a fifty-fifty chance of me getting it right. But which one was right? That was the big question. I recalled that the Bible says that you will know them by their fruits or something like that, and the fruits from a Prophet would have to be good. I also learnt that the Founder of this new faith had also revealed an ocean of writings for mankind; writings which are full of love to those who have eyes to see.
As I quickly scanned the pages of one of Vafa’s books, he said. “I cannot convince you of the truth. It is only through reading Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings yourself that you will discover the reality one way or the other. If you are sincere in knowing the truth, then you will discover what reality is, but not from me.”
“Yes, I understand what you are saying, but I believe that Christ would have called His faithful ones to Himself, had He returned,”
“Maybe He is calling you now,” suggested Vafa. I looked at Vafa silently then glanced across at Hamíd who shrugged his shoulders, but said nothing. “He has already proclaimed to the kings and leaders that He has come to the world, but all but a few rejected His claim”.
I saw I was trapped and it was obvious that I would have to investigate further. I had to find out the truth, though doubts still flooded my mind. I gave another glance towards Hamid, who was still sitting there crossed-legged, watching how Vafa was drawing me in like a fisherman drawing in his catch.
“But how can one be sure what truth is?” I asked no one in particular.
“Well, as you said earlier, it is by their fruits you will know them,” Vafa reminded me, “and as I said earlier, the Greatness of Christ was His Teachings. So too will the proofs of Bahá’u’lláh be found in His Writings. As you know, Bahá’u’lláh has left us an ocean of His Writing and instructs all mankind to immerse themselves in the Ocean of His Words for therein will one find the pearl of great worth, which is the Truth.
One weekend, I brought up the subject of Pope Pius IX again. I was still finding it difficult to believe that he or any other Pope would reject Christ if He came. Vafa then went to his cupboard and got out a book which he passed to me. It was the ‘Proclamation to the Kings’ which included the letter sent by Bahá’u’lláh to Pope Pius IX. Vafa told me to read the letter to Pius IX as well as those to the Kings and His call to the monks. He also said to check out events of the kings in the light of world history. During that following week, I read the letter addressed to the Pope and was taken aback by the power of the words to the Pontiff. “He who is your Lord…you who are My servant…” The tone and power of the words of a prisoner was that of a great king addressing one of his vassals. I also read the letters to the kings and world leaders and was amazed at how the warnings had all come true. I also saw that it was only Queen Victoria who did not incur the wrath of God. Bahá’u’lláh had, in effect, praised her in His Letter. I felt proud that it was the same royal family, Victoria’s descendants, who were still sitting on the British throne, while all the other major players, including many of Victoria’s descendants in Europe, had lost their thrones and kingdoms in most dramatic ways, just as these powerful Tablets had warned them would happen, should they reject His Cause.
Though I liked what I heard, I could not give up my Catholic beliefs. I still believed in the Eucharist, that Christ was God, and in Christ’s Physical Resurrection. Nevertheless, even though I was now starting to question some of the Catholic Church’s teachings and beliefs, I was still a committed Catholic and still attended mass every day. Even so, it was an uncomfortable feeling to think or to consider the possibility that the Church not only knew of Christ’s return, but had rejected His claims without investigating, and had failed the people by not letting them know of this momentous event.
The following week I again brought up the subject of the Bahá’í Faith, and we spent all our time discussing it. Hamíd, as usual, never spoke or commented. He just silently listened to all that was being said and enjoyed hearing the debate between his friends.
It was August, about six months since I had first met Vafa and was introduced to the Faith, when one day, while alone with Hamíd, he said to me. “You are bending”
“No I am not,” I replied.
“When I met you, you were like a pillar; an upright pillar. You were solid as a rock in your beliefs, and would not give, even slightly, when we chatted. But now I see you are bending” he said, demonstrating the point by holding his forearm vertically erect and then letting his wrist bend over. I declared that I was not, “it is only that I find the Bahá’í Faith interesting, that’s all,” and then I made the point that I had absolutely no intentions of changing my faith. “I am totally happy with my own faith and believe it to be the right and only true religion.”
“You are still bending,” Hamíd declared, but I was adamant that I was not.
“I am just saying that I accepted some of those aspects of Vafa’s faith that make sense, but nothing more than that.”
“I still say you are giving in and bending,” repeated Hamíd teasingly with a smile.
“You can think what you like,” I said laughing, “I am still very much a Catholic.” Nonetheless, all this being said, it had been a roller-coaster six months. There were so many new concepts to take on board. There were totally new ideas and theories to try to understand and digest along with so many different possibilities and interpretations of Scripture. It is fair to say that at times it taxed my spiritual and mental understanding, but I also enjoyed the discussions with Vafa. Also, during the past six months, my own faith and beliefs had certainly been badly knocked, dented and turned up-side-down and now I found myself thinking that some of what the Church’s teachings, and what I had believed for so long, were farcical in comparison to what Vafa’s faith believes and teaches.
During the days and weeks following the meetings with Vafa, there were many thoughts and questions bouncing around in my head and I became aware that my Catholic faith was becoming far less certain now than it had been previously. I still saw myself as a Catholic and I continued to attend mass, to continue to receive the Eucharist, and to say the Divine Office each morning and evening. But those uncertainties of my beliefs were nibbling away more and more at the foundation of my Christian beliefs.
It was not long after this, and reading more and more of Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings, when I came across some warning of things to come; prophecies of the Bahá’í Faith. I read about the “Unforeseen Calamity” a warning foretelling of what is to happen in a little book given to me called The Hidden Words, by Bahá’u’lláh.
O YE PEOPLES OF THE WORLD! Know verily that an unforeseen calamity is following you and that grievous retribution awaiteth you. Think not the deeds ye have committed have been blotted from My sight. By My beauty! All your doings hath My pen graven with open characters upon tablets of chrysolite.”
“Know ye of a certainty that if ye turn not back from that which ye have committed, chastisement will overtake you on every side, and ye shall behold things more grievous than that which ye beheld aforetime …. We have fixed a time for you, O people! If ye fail, at the appointed hour, to turn towards God, He verily, will lay violent hold on you, and will cause grievous affliction to assail you from every direction.”
And then this:
“And when the appointed hour is come, there shall suddenly appear that which shall cause the limbs of mankind to quake. Then, and only then, will the Divine Standard be unfurled, and the Nightingale of Paradise warble its melody.”
Here again, I was faced with those same warnings from God, only this time from Bahá’u’lláh Himself. They were so similar to those that had been announced by Mary, the Mother of Jesus, though this time given much more forcefully, so much so that there was no way I could fail to see both the similarity and the urgency of both warnings. This could not be ignored, nor could it be merely coincidental. Seeing how humanity had had a very narrow miss with an all-out nuclear war back in the 1960s over the Cuban missile crisis, these ominous words of Bahá’u’lláh had a real impact on me, and I understood that this chastisement was yet to come.
It was around this time, while relating my thoughts to Vafa, I suddenly realised that I was talking as if I was already a Bahá’í, though as yet I had not accepted Bahá’u’lláh, and Christ was still the centre of my life. In fact, I even confessed to Vafa that I did not think it was possible for me to change my religion, especially after 37 years of indoctrination in the beliefs of the Catholic Church, even allowing for all the Church’s shortcomings. I affirmed that I still believed that Christ was the third Person of the Trinity and that Jesus was in fact God made man. Having said that, I did admit that I loved the Writings of this new faith and they did set me aglow.
As the weeks passed, I got to know a lot more about the Bahá’í Faith. I learnt that there were no evil spirits such as the Devil or Lucifer, that fallen archangel, and that Satan was only one’s lower nature. To believe in the devil is to believe that God could create evil, which is impossible, because all that He created was good and perfect. Likewise, I learnt that there were no geographical places such as heaven and hell; no fire and brimstones, but rather the fire associated with hell is the burning pain of separation from the Light of God’s presence. Such souls who were in a spiritual hell suffered the loss of the Divine Light of God, dwelling instead in a place where they experienced `Remoteness from God’. In other words, heaven and hell as the Christians understands it was false. Instead it is a spiritual condition not a physical place. I learnt some interesting facts about Muhammad, the Founder Prophet of Islám, which means the Religion of Peace. Yet even with all this knowledge, I declared that with so many years of indoctrination by the Church, it would take me many years to unburden myself and accept the Bahá’í Faith, if at all. “How does one give up what one has known when one has spent a life time learning and living, and which has become part of the very fibre of one’s being?”
“Don’t worry” Vafa assured me, “as I would not let you become a Bahá’í anyway, unless I was sure you accepted Bahá’u’lláh as a Manifestation of God for today. I am not trying to make you a Bahá’í, as that is Bahá’u’lláh’s job. Remember, you asked to meet me and I am only making known to you that the Bahá’í Faith exists and that we believe that Christ has already returned as promised in the scriptures. I am only answering your questions and offering you a new perspective on what you believe in the Bible. It will be up to you if you accept or reject what you have learnt of our faith. If in the process you think more about your own beliefs, if you become a better Christian because of it and acquire a clearer understanding of the station and greatness of Christ, then that is great. If you are destined to become a Bahá’í, then that will be because Bahá’u’lláh has called you and it will have nothing to do with me.”
It was now around late September when I started becoming curious that I had not, as yet, met any other Bahá’ís and asked Vafa if there were other Bahá’ís in Leeds. Vafa informed me that there was a small community in Leeds, as there is in every city and most towns throughout the UK and all round the world,” and he promised I would meet them when the time was right. I was very surprised to hear this, especially as I had never heard of the faith before meeting Hamíd who, after all, was a Muslim.
One day, around late September 1979, Vafa asked me. “Do you believe that Christ could lead you into error?”
“Of course not,” I replied. “He could never do that.”
“So you have complete trust in Christ, and that Jesus would not lead you into error. In other words, you believe that He would always guide you right?”
“Absolutely!” I said, “and not only that, but He would protect me from error.”
“Then may I offer you a prayer that you can pray to Jesus, so that He will guide you to the Truth and protect you from error? It is a prayer to God,” he assured me. “It has no mention of Bahá’u’lláh, so you can just pray it to Christ. Just say it every night before you go to sleep. Then trust Christ to guide you, to protect you and lead you to the truth. Are you willing to do that?”
“Yes for sure. I have no problem with that,” I assured him.
“So, if over time, you feel yourself being drawn away from the Bahá’í Faith and becoming less interested in it, accept that Christ is protecting you from the Bahá’í Faith and we shall speak no more about it, and we will just meet to play guitars.”
“That will be fine,” I confirmed.
“But,” Vafa added forcefully, “if on the other hand, over the next few weeks or months you feel drawn more towards the Bahá’í Faith, then accept it that Jesus is leading you to the Truth of Bahá’u’lláh, and that His faith is the Faith of God for this Age. Do you accept?”
“Yes, I trust Christ and know He will protect me from going wrong.“ Even so, as I was saying this, I wondered if I really had enough faith to believe it, but not to accept this challenge would show that I definitely did not have faith in Christ. So, a little nervously, I felt obliged to pick up the gauntlet that had been thrown down at me. “Yes, I accept the challenge,” I confirmed. Vafa then gave me one of his prayers books and pointed out the prayer to say each evening.
“O seeker of Truth! If thou desirest that God may open thine eyes, thou must supplicate unto God, pray to and commune with Him at midnight, saying:
O Lord! I have turned my face unto Thy Kingdom of Oneness and am immersed in the sea of Thy Mercy. O Lord, enlighten my sight by beholding Thy light in this dark night, and make me happy by the wine of Thy love in this wonderful age. O lord, make me hear Thy call, and open before my face the doors of Thy heaven, so that I may see the light of Thy glory and become attracted to Thy beauty.”
In late September Hamíd found me a place of my own where I could live. I moved out of my shared lodging and into a bed-sitter situated in Belle Vue Road, Leeds. It was right next door to Hamíd’s lodgings and closer to college. I found out that the parish church for this area was the Sacred Heart of Jesus and around the corner, just five minutes’ walk away. It was also around the time that I started faithfully reciting the (midnight) prayer given to me by Vafa. I would stay up till midnight every night without fail to say it. Apart from feeling peaceful after reading it, I did not feel anything else regarding the Bahá’í Faith, neither for nor against it, but continued saying it anyway.
On the first Sunday after moving into my own place, I went to mass at the nearby church but the people seemed bored and unresponsive, and when it was time to receive the Eucharist, I hesitated. Because of my unexpected doubts, I did not receive Communion that week, and went home with many questions and thoughts filling my head.
Continuing with the midnight prayer and my regular meetings with Vafa, I also noticed that I was reading more, discussing more and before I knew it, it was Sunday again. As usual, I got up and went to mass and again the same cold, unenthusiastic performance of the ritual of the mass. On that second Sunday, I found myself questioning if Christ could be God, since saying the Credo was an affirmation of that belief in the Catholic Church. As this question suddenly overtook my thoughts, I wondered if I should say it or not, as not to would be a fundamental departure from my belief. Instantly, I decided not to say the Credo, and by the end of the mass, I was again happy to leave the church and go home, which left me with some serious doubts about my faith in the Catholic Church. I made no mention of this to my friends, but kept to myself and continued praying. In early October, Vafa informed me that the Bahá’ís of York, were going to hold a public meeting and asked if I would like to attend with him. Of course, I jumped at the chance to meet more Bahá’ís and to learn more about the faith. Before we entered the meeting, Vafa advised me “Always remember, it is Bahá’u’lláh that matters, not other Bahá’ís, so if one of them were to smash a guitar over your head, it has nothing to do with the Bahá’í Faith or Bahá’u’lláh.” Always remember this, he said with earnest. “Do not be influenced by how you feel about any of the Bahá’ís. It is the Faith that matters, only Bahá’u’lláh, not any of the individuals.”
I really had no idea what to expect, but the first thoughts that came to my mind were, as I entered the meeting room and let my eyes range over all who were there were, “What an odd lot these Bahá’ís are.” There were about fifteen people in all, as I recall, and I soon gathered that I was the only non-Bahá’í attending. There was Muriel Evans, a tall and imposing figure with her snow white hair. She was the first to greet me as she arranged a display of Bahá’í books and pamphlets on the table. Soon we were chatting and, as my eyes glanced over the books, I pointed out those I had read. She suddenly looked me straight in the eye and as I looked back at her, she suddenly said, “I can see you will be a Bahá’í soon.” I had not expected to hear that, as I had not even thought of being a Bahá’í at that point. However Vafa suddenly came and guided me away and introduced me to others there.
The speaker for the evening was a lovely gentle soul, but as soon as he started quoting the Words of Baha’u’llah, he teared up and started crying. I thought to myself, “O my God!” That really freaked me out and I seriously wondered if I wanted to be part of this group. It was a good thing that Vafa had warned me about other Bahá’ís, otherwise I felt sure that I would have legged it out of there pretty sharply. Thankfully Igan Hayati was there, a student at Leeds University at that time. I also spent time chatting with Daryoush Mazloum from York, and Clive Tully from Hull.
It was early October when Vafa had agreed to accompany me to Huddersfield so that he could meet one of my priest friends from my former religious community. I wanted to listen while the priest and Vafa discussed the pros and cons of Christ’s return according to the Bahá’í perspective, in the hope that I would be able to make up my mind one way or the other. The first available weekend my priest friend was free clashed with a memorial service to be held in Leeds in honour of Enoch Olinga, a Bahá’í who had recently died. Enoch Olinga was a Hand of the Cause of God, though at the time I had no idea what that meant, though I had gathered that he was someone of great importance. Though Vafa was prepared to miss the memorial service for my sake, I suddenly had a strong desire to attend the memorial service, and asked Vafa if I could do so. Vafa asked, “Why, as you did not know him?”
“I don’t really know to be honest.” I replied, “I just have this strong feeling to attend, that’s all. Besides, it’s seems a shame for you to miss out, as we can always arrange another time to meet the priest.”
The service was very low key, but extremely dignified and spiritual, being held in the house of one of the Bahá’ís from Leeds. On the table, as I recall, was a framed picture of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá next to a vase of flowers and a lit candle. It was then that I learnt that Enoch Olinga had been murdered along with his wife and children in Uganda. I was very much moved and spiritually uplifted by the selected prayers and readings chosen, as well as being happy to meet some of the older members of the Leeds Bahá’í Community, who were mostly Iranians. Once the memorial was over, I asked Vafa about arranging a new meeting with the priest for the following Sunday. Vafa agreed, but then asked me. “Would you ask a Rabbi about Christianity?”
“Of course not,” I replied. “They rejected Christ and killed Him, so what would be the point of speaking with them about Christ?”
“Just as the Pope and Christianity had rejected Bahá’u’lláh,” Vafa pointed out. Instantly, I understood and no further meetings with my priest friend were suggested. Since that time, I believe that Enoch Olinga had called me to that memorial service, thus stopping me from attending the meeting between Vafa and the priest. From that time I have had a particular fondness for this Hand of the Cause of God for Africa.
The following Sunday morning I awoke to the realisation that the two main criteria of my faith as a Catholic were gone. Now it seemed that my belief in the Eucharist and the Credo had ceased to be of importance to me, thus I concluded that there was little point in attending mass that morning. It was the first time in my life that I had deliberately missed mass on a Sunday, even though the Church taught that to do so was to commit mortal sin and, to die in such a state would condemn my soul to eternal Hell. What was so strange was that I was not in the least concerned; in fact, I was now questioning this whole teaching of the Catholic Church. “How could missing mass be such a great sin? How could a loving God become a wrathful God and send a soul to Hell for simply missing mass?” It was an outrageous teaching of the Church. Later that day, I met with Vafa as usual but made no mention of this to him, until I was at least sure myself. On that occasion Vafa informed me about a fireside that was to be held on Friday evening in Leeds, and wondered if I would like to attend. Of course I jumped at the idea and, upon arriving, I was happy to see that they were all university students of Leeds. I was particularly happy to meet up with Igan Hayati again, whom I had befriended while in York. The fireside was held in the home of Russell and Terri Attwood, and I enjoyed socialising with everyone, learning more about the faith, and listening to Bahá’í verses put to music in English, as well as some Persian chanting. All in all, it was a lovely evening that went on till the early hours.
In the privacy of my own place I kept up the midnight prayer, indulged in reading and meditation when, all of a sudden, I saw Muhammad in a new light and understood how He could be a true Prophet, or Manifestation of God. Suddenly it all made sense, but did that mean I was then a Muslim or what? I did not know, but I felt sure about the station of Muhammad, not that I knew much about Him or Islám. Nevertheless, with a great feeling of joy, I went next door and told Hamíd about my acceptance of Muhammad as a Prophet.
Shocked, Hamid asked. “How did you accept Muhammad as a Prophet?”
“Through Vafa.” I replied.
“How do you mean, ‘Vafa’? How could he convince you? Hamid asked, totally astounded. “He’s not a Muslim! I spent months trying to convince you and make you understand, but you never accepted or budged an inch in your beliefs”.
“It was the way he explained it to me I suppose. I was praying some Bahá’í prayers, when it suddenly dawned on me that all that he said made perfect sense.”
Then, getting excited he went and phoned Vafa and repeated to him what he had just heard. Immediately Vafa invited us both to his apartment. Entering his place, we were greeted by the scent of attar of roses and sweet smell of freshly-sliced honeydew melon. I will never forget that fragrance as the three of us celebrated the recognition of the Prophethood of Muhammad.
Sunday mornings now had a new routine, and at first I found it strange not to go to mass. It was on the last Sunday of October when I drove to Vafa’s place alone. As I made my way there, I was unexpectedly overtaken by an inner feeling of great joy. It is best described as a bright glow, a powerful light of many colours that seemed to be shining within me. So great was this feeling that I had to pull my car over and stop driving a while. I knew only a great sense of jubilation and instinctively understood that the reality of Bahá’u’lláh had just dawned on me and I knew then that the Ancient Beauty was truly the Manifestation of God for this Age. I just sat there, my heart pounding, oblivious to my surroundings or time; knowing that what I was feeling must be the ‘Rapture’, though I had never accepted the understanding of the rapture that many Christians hold as their belief and which they mistakenly expect during the last days. But such were the feelings, that it is the only explanation I could give. How long I remained there in my car I have no idea, but eventually I resumed my journey to Vafa’s apartment, where I related to him my amazing experience and that wonderful moment. Vafa, whom I can now rightly call my teacher or spiritual father, became very excited by the news.
Vafa then explained that I would have to formally accept Bahá’u’lláh by signing a declaration card. Only then could I attend Nineteen Day Feasts and become a full member of the Bahá’í World Community. I had no idea what a Nineteen Day Feast was, other than it was a meeting for Bahá’ís only, but Vafa promised they would arrange for me to sign the card just as soon as was possible. I thought it would be nice to formally declare my belief on Sunday, 4th November, which happened to be the 37th Anniversary of my baptism. Vafa consulted with his uncle, Dr. Hamid Pakrooh, a member of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Leeds, who informed Vafa that Leeds would be holding a 19 Day Feast on the 4th November. He said I could sign the card at a public meeting to be held in Ripon on the 4th and that he would be willing to take Vafa and me there, where I could formally declare my belief in Bahá’u’lláh.
At the Friday night fireside of the 2nd November, the day preceding my birthday, Vafa told me that Azita’s parents had invited me to a meal at their home the following evening to celebrate my birthday. During that fireside, everyone was excited that I was about to declare and, as always, they discussed various aspects of the Faith. I mentioned in passing, that I was only interested in the spiritual aspects of the Bahá’í Faith and not the administration. It was just not my forte, I explained, to which Vafa simply said not to worry about it, and just leave it in the hands of Bahá’u’lláh, or words to that effect.
Next day, Vafa took me to the home of Azita’s parents, Dr. Hamid and Farah Pakrooh, for my 37th birthday celebration. I had never seen a table laid out with so much food, all Persian cuisine, and I realised that every effort had been made to welcome me and make this a very special occasion. It had been a most amazing evening, enjoyed in the company of Vafa, and our hosts, along with their children, Azita, Mina and Ramin who was then a small child. As the evening progressed, in that rarefied atmosphere so full of love and joy, the like of which I had never known, I became even more excited about embracing the Faith the following day. The evening celebration concluded with a surprise birthday cake, candles and all.
Early next morning, Vafa, Azita and I were driven to Ripon by Dr. Hamid Pakrooh. Entering the community centre, Vafa excitedly introduced me to Bill Hellaby who was manning the display of photos and books. Bill had once been a minister of his own church before he and his wife Madeline converted to this new faith. We stood there chatting, sharing a lot in common. I was also introduced to Mr. Hasan Ansari of Harrogate, a wonderful elderly Persian gentleman, whom I grew to know and love and from whom I was to learn so much.
Madeline sat ready to conduct the meeting and as I waited for the proceedings to start, I wondered how I ended up there and how from discussing Islám, just a year earlier, I had taken a path that had led me to a faith that so few had ever heard of. The meeting started with some prayers and readings, recited by several of those attending.
As the meeting continued, Vafa, who was sitting a few seats away, leaned forward and asked. “Can I make the announcement?” Even though I was getting cold feet, the moment I caught the expectation on his face I simply nodded my head. With that, Vafa stood up and asked if he could make an announcement. Madeline then turned her attention to Vafa.
“I would like to announce that my friend here would like to declare.” Well if nothing else, it stopped a debate on alcohol, and the room was suddenly buzzing with excitement. Feeling nervous, I signed a card in front of everyone present, given to me by Mr. Priem of the Harrogate Bahá’í community. At that point I officially became a member of the Bahá’í Faith. Suddenly, in a matter of a few months from never hearing of the Faith and only knowing one Bahá’í, I embraced this Cause of God.
At the very moment of declaring my belief in Bahá’u’lláh, a great and wonderful feeling descended upon me and I was engulfed in a spirit of total joy and instantly felt that I had arrived. It was a moment of real ‘rapture’, much as I had felt that time in the car, but even greater. It was an amazing feeling like nothing I had ever experienced in my life. Spiritually, I was on cloud nine, and absorbing all the love of those wonderful new friends around me. Then a copy of Gleanings was passed around for everyone to sign, and then presented to me, which I gratefully accepted. The deed was done, the die cast and there was no going back.
The date of that momentous day; the day of my `Second Birth’; the day I converted to the Bahá’í Faith was 1st day of Qudrat (Power) 136 Bahá’í Era, which corresponds with 4th November, 1979 A.D. This was the start of a spiritual adventure, a new journey of discovery.
Life as a Bahá’í: 1979 –2016
Just three weeks after I embraced this new faith, the Leeds Bahá’í community held a by-election to fill a vacancy on the Spiritual Assembly. I was excited to be part of this election process, well, that was until I was elected. It was a total shock to me, having only just become a Bahá’í and especially as I had said only days before that the administration was not my forte. Now, all of a sudden, here I was an elected member of the administration; a member of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Leeds with no knowledge of how it functioned, or what its responsibilities were. In fact, I had no idea what an Assembly really was, but I was soon to find out. It was then that I realised how being a Bahá’í was already changing my life in ways I had never expected. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end. Obviously Bahá’u’lláh had His own plans for me which were not mine. Except for the odd year or so, I was to serve continuously on assemblies in four different communities up to the present day.
Also it was exciting to see how the youth at that time were so active with weekly firesides in Leeds, as well as all piling into cars to travel to York, Harrogate, Wakefield, Sheffield, Hull, Bradford and Newcastle and, on occasion, even as far as Liverpool to attend firesides and public meetings, in their effort to support neighbouring communities. In a very short time, I certainly felt part of a larger community, which was all the more amazing seeing that so few had even heard of this faith at that time.
Attending talks and deepenings, whenever possible, were vital opportunities for me, not only because I learnt and acquired more information about the Bahá’í Faith, but also as it gave me many opportunities to meet other Bahá’ís, so, whenever an occasion presented itself, Vafa and other community members would take me to such gatherings, such as one where Counsellor Adib Taherzadeh gave a talk. It was the first time that I had heard such an amazing speaker on the Faith. I was absolutely enthralled with Adib’s knowledge and how he not only spoke without notes, but wrote them as he talked. I found his style both informative and casual and it was so easy listening to him. He certainly captivated me when he spoke on the earliest days of the Faith, especially as his own father had been in Akká at the time of Bahá’u’lláh.
After the talk, Vafa introduced me to Adib where he was very interested to learn that I was a new believer who had recently been a member of a Catholic Religious Order and, from then, a friendship between us was established.
In 1981 I was elected as a delegate to National Convention and from there I learnt, much to my amusement, that Philip Hainsworth always referred to me as the Bahá’í monk.
After two years in Leeds I agreed to pioneer to York, arriving there at midday on the 21st April 1983. That afternoon, the Spiritual Assembly of York was re-formed.
York – Swansea – Baguio – Lingayen – 1983–2016
From England to Wales to the Philippines
I served on the York Assembly for nine years undertaking all four officers’ roles in turn. I was also appointed as an Assistant to Madeline Hellaby, the Auxiliary Board member for Protection.
I was a regular speaker on Radio York, which proved advantageous with the launch of the UN year of Peace, as I was able to approach York’s radio station with regard to the Universal House of Justice’s Peace Message which was presented to the world in 1985. On the morning when that weighty document was being presented globally to all heads of state, I was being interviewed about it on Radio York. After the Bahá’ís of York had finished all the presentations of the Peace Document, the Radio York presenter invited me back to the studio where he interviewed me at length about my life as a member of a Religious Order and my conversion to the Bahá’í Faith. This was broadcast during the following week in ten-minute slots each day, with the interview finishing on the last day with the presenter asking me about the Baha’i martyr Mona. As I was relating her story, the song, ‘Mona and the Children’ started playing which concluded the week-long series of interviews. This was a very moving experience for me, when listening to the interviews on radio each day, as I had not realised that the Mona song was to be played. To conclude the U.N. Year of Peace, on the 31st December 1986, an Interfaith Torch Light Possession was held in York. Starting at the Mansion House it made its way through York City to the Minster. It was on this occasion that, as the chairman of the Peace Committee, I was able to raise the call of ‘Alláh’u’Abhá from the pulpit of that ancient edifice of Christendom. After welcoming everyone, each of the members from the different faiths read readings and prayers for peace.
In 1985, I received an invitation to make my first pilgrimage to the Bahá’í World Centre on Mount Carmel. The Seat of the Universal House of Justice had just recently been completed and I was excited to see this magnificent building, especially as it fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah. During that pilgrimage I had the bounty of being there to celebrate the Holy Day of the Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh. It was a never-to-be-forgotten experience, seeing Rúhíyyih Khánum, escorted by Hand of the Cause Mr. Furútan, leading the procession, along with the members of the House of Justice. Everyone who worked at the World Centre lined the path, along with all the pilgrims. As it was at night time the whole area was illuminated and the grounds and buildings looked spectacular.
While in the Mansion of Bahji, I was able to enter the room where Bahá’u’lláh had ascended and to experience that rarefied atmosphere, while I knelt close to Bahá’u’lláh’s bed and pondered the scene as it had been back in 1892. Another highlight of that pilgrimage was when my group had an audience with Rúhíyyih Khánum in her home and later enjoyed the wonderful company of Hand of the Cause of God Mr. Furútan.
In 1987-8, I was appointed to the National Teaching Committee for one year, and served on it with Rocky Grove, Shahriah Razavi, Joyce Spath and Jan Mughrabi, to name those I can recall. During that year we produced the booklet Storming the Gates of Heaven. I was also invited to give a talk at the Scottish Summer School on the subject “Power has been seized from Ecclesiastics”, and listed those powers that had been taken from the clergy by Bahá’u’lláh, and showed which of those powers now resided within the Bahá’í Faith. At another time, I was also invited to Ireland by Counsellor Adib Taherzadeh, as his guest, but as Adib had been called away at that time, I stayed in the National Bahá’í Centre in Dublin, and was royally looked after by Zebby Whitehead, a retired Hollywood film star and long-time member of the Bahá’í Faith. I also attended the Irish Bahá’í Winter School in County Clare, followed by talks at firesides in Limerick.
While travel-teaching in Belgium, I stayed with Annie Wise and her family in Antwerp, along with about six other travel teachers including the wonderful Lois Hainsworth from the UK. We would go out to the park during the day singing and playing guitars and during the evenings to the night spots to talk to people and bring up the Faith in conversation. While there, some of us had the bounty of visiting the European House of Worship in Germany and later attended the Belgium summer school where I met a young Rob Weinberg and his parents for the first time. I also travelled to America where I visited Bahá’í friends in San Francisco before travelling to Los Angeles to meet Vafa’s mother. I was also able to visit Judge Nelson in his court. During each lunch break he held firesides in his chambers and I was able to attend one of these. I also gave a talk at a 19 Day feast in Los Angeles with a gathering of around five hundred friends, the largest Nineteen Day Feast I had ever attended. Later I was interviewed on Radio Napa.
In 1990, during a recession, I lost my company, Star Printers, partly due to the bank’s failure to support the new business and partly due to dishonourable partners. This also resulted in my losing my house. I was grateful to the Bahá’ís of York and in particular Julia Smith for her help and support. In early April, while speaking on the phone with Mark Adams of Aberdare, South Wales, he asked if I would ever consider returning to Wales, and suggested I speak with Viv Bartlett, the Auxiliary Board member for the area. The next thing I knew Viv had persuaded me to move back as a pioneer to Swansea, so nine years to the day since I had pioneered to York, I boarded a train for Wales, along with my two cats and dog in tow. Just after lunch on 21st April 1991 I arrived in Swansea, my second pioneering post, and that same afternoon, the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Swansea was re-formed.
After retirement in 2013, I decided to pioneer abroad. I moved to Baguio City in the Philippines and the following year I was invited to give two talks at the Central Luzon summer school. On day one, my presentation was about the History of the Báb and on day two the History of Bahá’u’lláh. I certainly gained a lot from giving the talks and hope others did also.
On 21st April 2015 I was elected to the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Baguio, the first Local Spiritual Assembly there in ten years.
On 28th July 2016 I moved to Pangansian to help consolidate and support Narciso Baccey III, who having become a Bahá’í had moved back home, the only Bahá’í in Lingayen. We are currently a community of two there.
In conclusion, it is fair to say that as I am about to celebrate my thirty-seventh year of service as a Bahá’í, I can look back to that moment when I had the great bounty of declaring my belief in Bahá’u’lláh. I recall wondering how being a Bahá’í would change my life. Well, this is the abridged version of my journey and the changes that have been made. It is impossible to reflect on what my life might have been had I not embraced the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh. It has been an extraordinary and exciting life since my declaration, with all its ups and downs, failures and gains. Sure, there have been days when I was on the crest of the spiritual wave but I have come to the conclusion it is often three steps forward and two steps back, but gains are made and the soul develops as it is gradually transformed.
John Joseph Butler
The Philippines, November 2016
Editor’s note: John has written much more about his life. If any reader would like to read more, please comment on this story and we will put you in contact with John. He hopes to publish a book about his life, at a future date.