Lucia Pane
  • Rosario Zavala
  • Lucia Pane

Chicagoans is a first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford. This week’s Chicagoan is Baha’i follower Lucia Pane.

Whenever I mention the Baha’i faith, people look at me like, “Um, what is that?” My two-sentence answer is: “It’s a new world religion, founded in 1844, and the founder’s name is Bahá’u’lláh. Unity, that’s our main principle.” We believe that all religions and all peoples come from the same god, so everyone is united. We also believe in equality of men and women, and the unity of science and religion. But unity is the main deal.

God sends messengers throughout history to mankind as we need them, every 1,000 or so years. Jesus Christ came, and Muhammad came, and Bahá’u’lláh came. He was born in Iran, which was then Persia, and he was exiled many, many times, ending in Israel.

The nicest thing about having such a recent faith is that everything was written down by Bahá’u’lláh, or dictated by him to his secretary, or people would follow him around and write down stories, so there’s a lot of written material we have. And there are photographs of him, passport photos taken during his exiles, but the only place you can view them is at the Bahá’í World Centre in Israel. The reason is that Bahá’u’lláh didn’t want people worshiping him; he wanted people to worship God. I have seen [the photos]. He didn’t look at all like how I thought he was going to look.

Baha’i don’t drink or do drugs, and we believe in waiting to have sex until marriage. Homosexuality—that’s a loaded question. It’s between that person and God, and it’s not our place to judge. I have many friends who identify themselves as being homosexual, and they are lovely people. But marriage was set up in the Baha’i faith as being between a man and a woman. It’s a hard question to answer.

Baha’is have a calendar made up of 19 months of 19 days. If you add that all up, it’s not 365; we have a few days left over that we call the intercalary days. Those are used for a festival called Ayyám-i-Há, held right at the end of February. We celebrate it with hospitality, charity, gift giving, kind of like Christmas. Anyway, at the beginning of every Baha’i month, we get together in people’s homes and have what’s called a feast. There’s usually food there, but it’s not like a banquet. It’s a spiritual feast. We say prayers, we read, we sing songs.

The House of Worship in Wilmette is not used for feasts; it’s used for devotional activities or holy day celebrations, and it’s also open for anyone. There’s only one Bahá’í House of Worship per continent, so we’re quite lucky to have the one for North America here in Wilmette. And we have a new welcome center, which just opened. All of the Houses of Worship have nine sides, nine gardens, nine entrances, because the numerical value of the word bahá, which means “light” or “glory,” is nine. It’s a very spiritually potent building.