At the end of 2021, the Bahá’í Community of Canada’s Office of Public Affairs looked back on its work and impact over the course of an eventful year.
Despite the continuing public health restrictions imposed by the pandemic, it was a fruitful year marked by significant events, insightful conversations about issues in the national public discourse, and collaboration with like-minded individuals and groups.
MARKING THE CENTENARY OF THE PASSING OF 'ABDU'L-BAHÁ
This year was significant for the Bahá’í Community of Canada because of its association with the centenary of the passing of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, a unique figure in religious history. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was the son of Bahá’u’lláh, the head of the Bahá’í Faith from 1892 – 1912, and he was an exemplar of the Bahá’í teachings and a source of guidance and inspiration for millions of people around the world. His passage on November 28, 1921 followed an historic visit to North America, including 10 days spent in Montreal in 1912 where his visit is memorialized by the presence of a Bahá’í Shrine.
On November 24, the Bahá’í community hosted an intimate reception for dignitaries at the Visitor’s Centre of the Bahá’í Shrine in Montreal to mark the centenary. Attended by religious leaders, political representatives, and academics, the gathering commemorated the life and legacy of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Alan DeSousa, Montréal city councillor and Mayor of Saint-Laurent observed that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s “powerful message of the equality of the human race and universal peace has taken root throughout the world.”
We launched a new website dedicated to this centenary, which included an essay of reflections on the centenary of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s passing, and re-developed pages on the Shrine in Montreal and the visit of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to Canada. We also made available a variety of multimedia resources to support commemorative activities, including booklets of stories about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and short videos about his visit to Montreal.
We worked in partnership with dozens of other groups over the course of the year to convene spaces of dialogue and consultation where participants could productively examine issues in the national public discourse.
Our office supported the Canadian Interfaith Conversation’s fifth Our Whole Society conference, held virtually this year. The conference examined themes of religion and solidarity in the context of COVID-19. “This year’s conference showed us, once again, the potential for religion to be a constructive and positive force in Canadian society,” said Geoffrey Cameron, chair of the steering committee for the conference and Director of Public Affairs for the Bahá’í Community of Canada. “We heard how the ideas, values, and institutions of religion have been an important part of our collective response to COVID, and how religion supports processes of reconciliation, refugee settlement, and building social solidarity.”
Coming on the heels of Our Whole Society, we also supported the launch of a new All Party Parliamentary Interfaith Caucus – a new entity that will enable dialogue between Parliamentarians and faith communities on areas of mutual concern.
Among other activities this year, the Office of Public Affairs also hosted virtual events exploring the impact of digital technologies on public discourse, and the role of religion in the eradication of violence against women. The latter event, held in conjunction with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, was recorded and released as a podcast episode in our new season of The Public Discourse.
Finally, we joined countless others in marking the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation this year on September 30. We produced and shared a set of videos that conveyed a unifying perspective of our collective search for truth, justice and reconciliation.
THE PUBLIC DISCOURSE PODCAST
In an effort to continue to stimulate and contribute to public discourse under the conditions of the coronavirus pandemic, we launched a new podcast in 2020. We have now recorded 18 episodes of The Public Discourse, which has engaged dozens of guests from all backgrounds in probing conversation about the values and principles that inform some of the most pressing issues in our national public discourse.
The most recent season of The Public Discourse features conversations that relate to the theme, “A Vision of Oneness,” inspired by the life and teachings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. It includes episodes on Dialogue and Consultation, Confronting Hate and Prejudice, and The Role of Religion in Eradicating Violence Against Women. We have continued to produce preview videos for each new episode, which can be found on our YouTube playlist.
DEFENDING THE RIGHTS OF BAHÁ'ÍS IN IRAN
We remained closely engaged over the course of the year with the human rights situation of the Bahá’ís in Iran. In response to concerns raised by our office and other human rights activists, the Government of Canada and Canadian Parliamentarians from all parties have continued to express their support for the rights of Bahá’ís in Iran.
The Office of Public Affairs participated in two global campaigns to draw attention to the confiscation of Bahá’í properties in Iran, and the rising threat of state-sponsored hate propaganda. For each campaign we developed dedicated websites, which hosted background material and curated media coverage and public statement expressions of concern. Media coverage included articles in the Globe and Mail and CBC, among other outlets, and the hashtag #StopHatePropaganda was trending across Canada throughout the latter campaign.
To continue to follow the work of the Office of Public Affairs, visit, opa.bahai.ca and subscribe to its periodic newsletter: https://t.co/TNGbd6pmQm