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Where Do Rwanda’s 15,000 Bahá’í Faith Converts Pray From?

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Rwanda hosts about 15,000 members of the Bahá’í faith one of the smallest religious sects in this hilly east African country that is predominantly catholic and with a slightly larger number of Anglicans and moslems.

However, one may wonder where the Bahá’ís of Rwanda congregate from- It is quite easy to access the mosques, roman catholic cathedrals and Anglican churches but not for the Bahá’í temples.

The first settlers of the Bahá’í religion arrived in the region by July 1953 from the United States and Malawi. The first Bahá’í to travel through Rwanda may have been Marthe Molitor c. 1947 after joining the religion in Belgium though she moved on to the Belgian Congo.

The first Rwandan to convert to Bahá’í faith was known as Alphonse Semanyenzi.

The regional National Spiritual Assembly of Central and East Africa was established in 1956, with its seat in Kampala, and embraced Uganda, Tanganyika, Kenya, Belgian Congo, Ruanda-Urundi, and other areas.

Hand of the Cause Enoch Olinga represented the Universal House of Justice for the 1969 election of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Burundi and Rwanda with its seat in Bujumbura.

With the independence of Burundi and Rwanda, the National Assembly was reformed in 1972 for each country. Hand of the Cause Rúhíyyih Khanum visited Rwanda in 1972 and 1973 about when the community was officially recognized by the national government.

History of Bahá’í religion

The Baháʼí Faith was established by Baháʼu’lláh (1817-1892) and later announced in 1863 that He was God’s Messenger for this age. His teachings and sacred writings form the basis of the Bahá’í Faith.

Baha’u’llah, whose name means “Glory of God” in Arabic, was born in Tehran in 1817. Baha’u’llah’s father was a minister in Iran’s government, which supported Shi’i Islam as the state religion.

As a member of Iran’s nobility, Baha’u’llah was offered a government position. Instead, he joined a new religious movement, started by a young Iranian, known as the Bab.

The Babi movement called for revolutionary social changes and championed women’s rights.

Quite controversially, the Bab claimed that his teachings were a revelation from God and predicted that a new prophetic figure, or manifestation of God, would soon appear.

In 1850, the Bab was charged by Shi’i religious officials with heresy and was put to death by firing squad. Subsequent public protests and mob violence claimed the lives of thousands of his followers.

As part of its crackdown on the followers of the Bab, the Iranian government incarcerated Baha’u’llah.

He was kept in an underground prison in Tehran, which Baha’u’llah describes in his writings as filthy, dark and “foul beyond comparison.”

The government released Baha’u’llah in 1853, and exiled him to Baghdad, then part of the Ottoman Empire. It was during this exile that he publicly announced the establishment of the Baha’i faith.

Indeed Baha’u’llah claimed to be the manifestation of God that the Bab had foretold and gained a large following. Ottoman officials later moved Baha’u’llah to the prison city of Akka in Palestine.

He remained there until his passing in 1892. Today, Baha’u’llah’s shrine, now in Israel, is an important pilgrimage site.

A primary theme of Baha’u’llah’s teachings is achieving world peace through the establishment of unity, justice and equality.

Therefore, Baha’u’llah’s teachings specifically advocate for racial unity, gender equality, universal education, and harmony of science and religion.

Baha’is, for example, embrace interracial marriage and education for girls. In fact, the first school for girls in Iran was established by the Baha’is.

The Bahá’í World Centre, the spiritual and administrative heart of the Bahá’í community, is located in the twin cities of ‘Akká and Haifa in northern Israel. It comprises the Shrines of Bahá’u’lláh, the Báb, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as well as other holy sites in the surrounding area.

In the vicinity of the Shrine of the Báb there are a number of structures including the Seat of the Universal House of Justice, the International Teaching Centre Building, the Centre for the Study of the Texts and the International Bahá’í Archives, all of which are set in extensive gardens.

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Religion

Jehovah’s Don’t Believe in Worldly Governments

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In July 2017, the Russian Supreme Court rejected an appeal of an earlier ruling sanctioning Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist group.

As of now, Jehovah’s Witness gatherings and preaching are criminal offenses in Russia.

The Russian government also has the legal authority to liquidate any property held by Jehovah’s Witnesses as an organization.

The Russian Supreme Court maintains that the country needs to be protected from disloyal religious fanatics.

There are over eight million Jehovah’s Witnesses in 240 countries worldwide. Russia, with a population of more than 150 million, has a total of 117,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses – one Jehovah’s Witness per 850 people.

Who are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and why would the Russian, or any, government consider them to be a threat?

The story of Jehovah’s Witnesses begins in the late 19th century near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with a group of students studying the Bible.

The group was led by Charles Taze Russell, a religious seeker from a Presbyterian background.

These students understood “Jehovah,” a version of the Hebrew “Yaweh,” to be the name of God the Father himself.

Russell and his followers looked forward to Jesus Christ establishing a “millennium” or a thousand-year period of peace on Earth. This “Golden Age” would see the Earth transformed to its original purity, with a “righteous” social system that would not have poverty or inequality.

Russell died in 1916 without witnessing the return of Jesus Christ.

But his group endured and grew. The name “Jehovah’s Witnesses” was formally adopted in the 1930s.

Early Jehovah’s Witnesses believed 1914 to be the beginning of the end of worldly governments that would culminate with the Battle of Armageddon. Armageddon specifically refers to Mount Megiddo in Israel where some Christians believe the final conflict between good and evil will take place. Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, expected that the Battle of Armageddon would be worldwide with Jesus leading a “heavenly army” to defeat the enemies of God.

They also believed that after Armageddon, Jesus would rule the world from heaven with 144,000 “faithful Christians,” as specified in the Book of Revelation. Other faithful Christians would be reunited with dead loved ones and live on a renewed Earth.

Over the years, Jehovah’s Witnesses have reinterpreted elements of this timeline and have abandoned setting specific dates for the return of Jesus Christ. But they still look forward to the Golden Age that Russell and his Bible students expected.

Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the Trinity. For most Christians, God is a union of three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Instead, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is distinct from God – not united as one person with him. The “Holy Spirit,” then, refers to God’s active power. Such doctrines distinguish Jehovah’s Witnesses from mainline Christian denominations, all of which hold that God is “triune” in nature.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have no political affiliations, and they renounce violence. However, they make an easy target for governments looking for internal enemies, as they refuse to bow down to government symbols. Many nationalists call them “enemies of the state.”

As a result, they have often suffered persecution throughout history in many parts of the world.

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“Martyrs of Uganda”, Give Hope Every Tear Shall Be Wiped Away

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Our church year is dotted with a variety of commemorative feasts, days which the church has set aside so that we can give thanks for the life and witness of particular people, people who reveal something to us about what it means to follow Jesus.

June 3 is such a day, the feast of “The Martyrs of Uganda”.

Christianity arrived in the kingdom of the Baganda people (now called Uganda) in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

The first missionaries, British Anglicans and French Roman Catholics, were warmly received by the Kabaka, the king, Mutesa, who was impressed that they behaved well and brought no slaves.

The mission went well and the first Anglicans were baptized on March 18, 1882. But on October 9, 1884, Mutesa died.

The new king, Mwanga, was young, just eighteen. He was suspicious of foreigners and had a savage temper.

In October, 1885, after a dangerous overland trek from the Indian Ocean coast, the new Bishop of East Equatorial Africa, James Hannington, made the mistake of entering Uganda from the east, the traditional entry point for enemies.

He was detained and on October 29 executed on order of Mwanga. But Mwanga did not limit his fury to foreigners.

Already in January of the same year Mwanga had had three Anglican boys dismembered and burned because they were working for a missionary, Alexander Mackay, who had refused Mwanga’s protection.

The worst punishments, however, were reserved for Mwanga’s own servants. Many of the boys of the king’s court had become Christians.

They were called “readers” because they had become literate in order to read the Bible, which Mackay was translating.

On May 25, 1886, Mwanga called for some servants. Two pages entered, named Ssebuggwawo and Mwafu. When he questioned their activities of the day Mwafu answered that he had been learning about the Christian faith from Ssebuggwawo.

Mwanga exploded. The king had learned the practice of sodomy from Arab traders and Mwafu was his favourite. Mwanga knew that if Mwafu became a Christian he would no longer comply. Three Christian servants were beaten and killed that day; nine more were executed in various ways over the next week.

Thirty-seven were detained at the execution site at Namugongo, knowing that their end was not far. The story of the last days of this mixed group of Roman Catholic and Anglican teenagers, led by the young catechist Charles Lwanga, is one of mutual encouragement, of support for one another in prayer, of steadfast refusal to recant.

The missionaries were heartsick. They pleaded for the release of the prisoners. They were not forbidden to preach but were told that as many as were converted would be killed.

Finally June 3 arrived. Lwanga was killed at the place of detention, roasted over a slow fire.

It is said that he told his executioners that though they were burning him it was as though they were pouring water over his feet, ‘Beware’, he said, ‘of the fire that lasts forever.’

The rest were marched a mile away where they were rolled in reed mats and bound. Four of the younger boys were clubbed to death to spare them the pain.

Five were given a last minute pardon. At noon the pyre was lit. Thirty-one martyrs were burned. The violence of the Kabaka’s persecution scattered other believers throughout the kingdom where more ‘reading’ soon sprung up.

Namugongo shrine in the capital Kampala

The faith of Ugandan Christianity, nurtured by the witness of the martyrs, has lived through more recent periods of violence.

The regimes of Amin and Obote have both claimed their victims: Archbishop Janani Luwum, murdered by Idi Amin, is now commemorated along with the young boys of the nineteenth century.

Today in Namugongo, in the suburbs of Kampala, there is a small Anglican theological college. In the late 1980’s, in the last days of the regime of President Milton Obote, the Principal of that college was a man named Kasira.

One night soldiers came looking for some of the students of that college. Kasira, claiming that he was responsible for those students, refused to give any information to the soldiers. They killed him where he stood.

In a world which continues to be a place of violence the martyrs of Uganda remind us that there will be a day when every tear shall be wiped away, but that now we are called to mutual encouragement, prayer, steadfast faith and self-giving love.

This article first appeared in The Niagara Anglican in June 1995.

Rev. Dr. Grant LeMarquand has written and edited numerous articles and books, including Why Haven’t You Left? Letters from the Sudan and A Comparative Study of the Story of the Bleeding Woman in North Atlantic and African Contexts.

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Did Catholic Church Err In Solemnising Prime Minister Boris’ Marriage?

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The Roman Catholic Church is carefully getting scrutinised around the world for solemnising a controversial marriage that goes against the tenets of this religion.

On Saturday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson married his fiancée, Carrie Symonds at a quiete ceremony.

The couple was married by a Catholic priest in Westminster Cathedral in London, the seat of the English Catholic Church.

The big Question is How did a twice-divorced man, with at least one child born out of wedlock, manage to get married in the Roman Catholic Church?

However, the answer could be convincing; Johnson, 56, and Symonds, 33, were both baptized as Catholics.

Neither of Johnson’s previous two marriages was in the Catholic Church so the church does not recognize them, and Symonds had never married.

Background details of the Prime minister indicate that while a teenager at boarding school, he was confirmed as a member of the Church of England. 

Whatever the prime minister’s religious affiliation, the diocese of Westminster said in a statement: “The bride and groom are both parishioners of the Westminster Cathedral parish and baptized Catholic. All necessary steps were taken, in both church and civil law, and all formalities completed before the wedding.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson with his wife, Carrie Johnson

Many other practicing Catholics who are divorced are turned away by the church when they seek to remarry — to say nothing of same-sex couples who are Catholic.

“It’s not about whether Boris and Carrie should be allowed to get married in the church — they should — it’s about why other Catholics cannot,” said Christopher Lamb, the Rome correspondent of Tablet, a weekly Catholic publication. “Laws are only worth their salt if they’re seen as fair or consistent.”

The church apparently overlooked Mr. Johnson’s conversion to the Anglican faith because under church law, it is now all but impossible — once baptized — to formally defect from Catholicism.

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