Baha'i leader: Jubilee of Mercy for Christians, Bahais, Muslims and Jews

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The Holy Year of Mercy "is proof that the spiritual world of the Catholic Church is moving in step with the times”, AK Merchant, leader of the Bahai community in India, tells AsiaNews. He believes that "the Pope's appeal for mercy, especially centered on forgiveness and reconciliation, goes beyond a simple call to spiritual renewal," especially "at a time in history when it immorality seems excessive and senseless violence has exceeded all limits”.

The religious leader claims a profound unity of purpose between the Christian values ​​of mercy and the Baha'i community. As in the New Testament, Jesus invites us to "be merciful, just as your Father", also the founder of the Baha'i faith said: " If your gaze is turned towards mercy, you give up things that create profit only for you and instead seek that which benefits humanity". The corporal and spiritual works of mercy, mentioned in the Bull proclaiming the Jubilee, are "proven by the pastoral visits of the Pope and are also shared by the Baha'i faithful. Serving the oppressed and less fortunate is an integral part of the doctrine of the followers of Baha'u'llah, who share with their Christian brothers and sisters the seven works of mercy."

The example of Pope Francis, who says that the profession of the Christian faith in the mercy of God "binds us to Judaism and Islam, because both consider mercy one of the most important attributes of God”.

The Declaration of a jubilee year of mercy by Pope Francis is a spiritual demonstration by the worldwide Catholic Church of moving with the times. The last Jubilee was called by St John Paul II to mark the millennium, and this Holy Year of Mercy started on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on 8th December 2015 and will end on the Feast of Christ the King on 20th November 2016. With the opening of the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on 8th December, first time in the 21st century, the Pope called upon the entire Christian community to show a special measure of mercy and compassion to all humanity at a time when wanton immorality and senseless violence appears to have crossed all limits. 

Especially over the last year it has become clear that in different nations in different ways, the spiritual ideals that have traditionally united and bound together societies appears to be increasingly worn and spent. Therefore, the Holy Father’s call for mercy, and focus on forgiveness, reconciliation goes beyond a simple call for spiritual renewal. For, members of the Baha’i Community, the world over the holy year would serve as a reminder to arise with love of Baha’u’llah in their hearts to fulfil the urgent tasks of their global Plan that ends with the Feast of Ridván (Paradise) on 21st April 2016. For the principle of the oneness of humankind, as proclaimed by Baha’u’llah, asks not merely for cooperation among people and nations. It calls for a complete reconceptualization of the relationships that sustain present-day society. 

Indeed, the conceptual framework of a holy year is not unique to one particular religion.  It figures in Judaism, the Baha’i Faith, and oriental religious systems namely Hinduism and Buddhism. In its short duration of just 172 years from its inception the Baha’i Community have had two occasions of jubilee years, once in 1952-53 coinciding with 100 years of the first intimation of Baha’u’llah’s divine mission and again in 1992-93 to mark the centenary year of His ascension. For them the express purpose of sacred time, such as, the Year of Mercy, is a call to align themselves with God’s command: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:36. “… If thine eyes be turned towards mercy, forsake the things that profit thee and cleave unto that which will profit mankind…” Baha’u’llah. 

“It's a journey that starts with a spiritual conversion,” Pope Francis said at the announcement. But what is mercy, and how is it concretely practiced? No one will deny, God is superlative ‘mercy’ and it is love's second name. As we pray and reflect on the profound significance of the jubilee year we recall the importance of remission of sins and universal pardon. For, the God has chosen to be established upon His throne of mercy rather than justice. Were it not so, creation would instantly perish.  Historically speaking there is an unbroken line for the Church to profess mercy and always remain faithful to his overriding virtue, since it has the right and duty to call upon the mercy of God. Because mercy is also practiced through concrete acts of charity. Other religious communities and Faith-based traditions too have placed great emphasis on exemplifying the mercy of God and have appreciated the services of the Catholic community’s contribution in the field of education, hospice care, caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, visiting the imprisoned, and looking after the lonely. This is the encounter Pope Francis has amply demonstrated in visits to a number of countries in recent months.  Service to downtrodden and less fortunate is integral to the followers of Baha’u’llah who would agree with their Christian brothers and sisters that the seven spiritual works of mercy are to admonish the sinner, instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, comfort the sorrowful, bear wrongs patiently, forgive all injuries, and pray for the living and dead. As stated in the Vatican's website, the jubilee year has its roots in the Monastic law when every fiftieth year was made holy for the Jewish people. Debts were cancelled, slaves were freed, and lands were restored to their “original owners.” Pope Francis has long signalled his wish to change the Church's approach from condemnation of wrongdoing to a Church more forgiving of its flock, and more understanding of the difficulties faced by believers today. This extraordinary jubilee year is a practical way of giving expression to that wish, and creating a Church that is a "field hospital", healing and binding the wounds of its flock. He began the jubilee by opening the Holy Door of the Cathedral in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, during his recent trip to Africa. It was one of many symbolic gestures he made in a nation torn by fighting between Christians and Muslims. The Pope has also made clear he wants this jubilee to open a year of "fervent dialogue" between Christians, Muslims and Jews, so that all who believe in a merciful God show more mercy towards one another, driving out violence, disrespect and discrimination. He said that the Christian profession of faith in God's mercy "relates us to Judaism and Islam, both of which consider mercy to be one of God's most important attributes".

In a year marked by cruel conflicts, terrorist attacks and natural disasters across the globe, the jubilee is expected to draw millions of pilgrims to Rome, where the city authorities and the Vatican have been working together to ensure security.

* The author is the National Trustee, Lotus Temple & Baha’i Community of India; Chairman, The Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Delhi; General Secretary, Temple of Understanding—India [a global interfaith association accredited to the United Nations]

A. K. Merchant*