A neighbourhood pilgrimage to the Holy Land

Posted: 2020/02/25

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The pilgrim group from the Tillicum neighbourhood pose among the columns of the Seat of the Universal House of Justice.

A group of friends from Victoria, B.C. share their experience going on pilgrimage as a neighbourhood team.

In November 2019, most of our neighbourhood team went on a nine-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land. We were eight in total, ranging in age from late teens to mid-30s, all serving in the Tillicum neighbourhood of the Southeast Victoria cluster in British Columbia. Although each of us experienced pilgrimage differently, we all came home changed.

The Tillicum neighbourhood has been a centre of intense activity since the institute process took root in 2013. There are now three young people serving full-time here, who form a core team that meets and acts on daily and weekly rhythms, as well as over a dozen people sustaining core activities.

Our pilgrimage fell during the time leading up to the school winter break, when we would normally be building friendships with our neighbours and inviting our friends to an institute camp. But we also felt that eight people praying every day in the Holy Shrines would have a profound impact on the neighbourhood.

In the Book of Certitude Bahá’u’lláh revealed, “Is not the object of every Revelation to effect a transformation in the whole character of mankind, a transformation that shall manifest itself both inwardly and outwardly, that shall affect both its inner life and external conditions?” Pilgrimage represented for us this process of transformation on a personal and collective level.

Praying in the Holy Shrines allowed one friend to process grief. “I learned to acknowledge all the grief in my life, the sadness of my friends,” she shared. She decided to trust in God, recognizing that He “is taking care of them.” She was also reminded of the strength of the martyrs of the Faith, such as Táhirih.

Another pilgrim shared the effect of visiting the Shrines on the tenderness of his heart, saying, “When I was in the Shrines, I felt my heart break in two.” After the visit, he felt hopeful and “resolved to take every chance to do a loving act.”

A pressing decision was weighing on the mind of another pilgrim who had recently received a letter calling him to a new area of service. “I’d prayed a lot for other people in the Shrines, but I’d been avoiding praying for myself. After I read the letter, I was very anxious. I prayed about it for the first time in the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh. I prayed that I would be able to make the changes I needed to make in my life to serve in this new way.”

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A few members of the Tillicum neighbourhood team at the Ridván Garden.

At one of the pilgrim talks we attended, a member of the Universal House of Justice shared the following excerpt from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: “Rest assured that the breathings of the Holy Spirit will loosen thy tongue. Speak, therefore, speak out with great courage at every meeting.”[1]

This talk helped one team member reflect on her manner of speech in teaching the Cause. When she returned home, she decided to start teaching the Cause with a more straightforward approach, in a way that was not reckless, but that expressed what she believed to be true. Reflecting on the experience, she shared, “I need to speak…I can’t keep ideas to myself. My tongue has been loosened.”

In the pilgrim talks we also heard about some of the ways that the Bahá’í world has transformed since the beginning of the current Five Year Plan. We learned that the core activities have grown almost as much in the first three years of the current Plan as they did in the 20 years prior. In the moment, it can be difficult to recognize how much we have learned to stretch our spiritual wings, but we are beginning to understand more about the application of the Word of God in our lives.

It was also a bounty to build friendships with our fellow pilgrims through conversations about service. “They were doing a lot of the same things we were,” one of the pilgrims from Tillicum shared, adding that connecting with souls from Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Egypt, Malaysia, Moldova and Cameroon, “who have a different reality from you but are working for the same Cause, it’s an indescribable feeling…we are truly of one soul.”

We felt driven to apply the spiritual energy we received in Haifa to service in our neighbourhood. After we returned home, we prepared for the institute camp, where about 30 youth and junior youth came together to intensively study the institute materials and carry out the practice components. Some participants, who had studied Ruhi Book 3: Teaching Children’s Classes at the camp, were moved to carry out visits and outreach over the following weeks and started a children’s class soon after.

These youth rapidly put into action the patterns and skills that the older members of our team had struggled to learn for six years. New youth and junior youth have now joined a homework club and participate in an institute night that takes place at the neighbourhood centre, and a second institute night has evolved from existing activities as parents from the neighbourhood are starting to support and participate.

– Neil MacMillan

The Tillicum pilgrim group would like to acknowledge with our deepest gratitude to Bahá’u’lláh, the friends and family whose spiritual, emotional and financial support allowed us all to go on pilgrimage together; as well as the Universal House of Justice and the staff at the World Centre for hosting us.

[1] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p.269.