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Transmitted by email
TO: All National Spiritual Assemblies
DATE:14 April 2005
Dear Bahá’í Friends,
It gives us great joy to announce that on 8 April 2005, having finalized a purchase agreement, the National Spiritual Assembly of Chile took possession of the site on which will be built the last of the continental Mashriqu’l-Adhkárs of the Bahá’í world. The land is located north of the capital city of Santiago on a rise nestled in the foothills of the majestic Andes mountains. The way is now open for realizing the intention expressed by Shoghi Effendi that the first House of Worship in South America be erected in Chile.
Following our announcement on 12 June 2003 of the choice of the design presented by the architect Mr. Siamak Hariri, news spread rapidly in the architectural world, arousing favourable interest among influential circles, leading to unprecedented media coverage of the project in Chile, and attracting attention to the Faith of a wide range of its citizens. Much has occurred as a result.
In connection with the current decade-long commemoration of Chile’s two hundred years of independent nationhood, the Chilean Bicentennial Commission has designated the House of Worship as one of a limited number of official bicentennial projects in the private sector. This clearly reflects the civil authorities’ recognition of the significance of this edifice and their confidence in the benefit the undertaking will bring to Santiago and to Chile as a whole. As a consequence, the possible location of the project in the city’s central park was explored with the open support of several government officials, but, for various reasons, this proved unfeasible.
Meanwhile, substantial progress has been made with technical preparations for the construction work to be initiated in a few months. A groundbreaking ceremony is planned as part of a three-day gathering to commence Friday, 14 October 2005. Selected representatives from all national Bahá’í communities of the Western Hemisphere, with a special emphasis on the countries and indigenous peoples of South America, will be invited to attend this event.
The financial implications of this enterprise present the Bahá’í world with a new challenge. Total cost of the project is estimated at twenty-seven million dollars, and the plans now call for its completion within a period of three years. It is vital that the flow of contributions to the already established Chilean Temple Fund be greatly increased to ensure full support to the work. The friends everywhere are called upon to seize the opportunity to contribute sacrificially to an undertaking that holds immense promise for the advancement of the Cause and has already been the object of marvellous confirmations.
Let all reflect on the stirring words of the Master, revealed in connection with the raising up of the first House of Worship of the West, and draw from them inspiration for the great task ahead:
O God, my God! I implore Thee with a throbbing heart and streaming tears to aid whosoever expendeth his energy for the erection of this House, and the construction of this Building wherein Thy name is mentioned every morn and every eve. O God! Send down Thy divine increase on whosoever endeavoureth to serve this edifice and exerteth himself to raise it amongst the kindreds and religions of the world. Confirm him in every good deed in promoting the welfare of mankind. Open Thou the doors of wealth and abundance unto him and make him an heir to the treasures of the Kingdom, which perish not. Make him a sign of Thy bestowals among the peoples and reinforce him by the sea of Thy generosity and bounty, surging with waves of Thy grace and favour. Verily, Thou art the Generous, the Merciful and the Bountiful.
The Universal House of Justice
cc: The Hand of the Cause Dr. ‘Alí-Muhammad Varqá
International Teaching Centre
Boards of Counsellors
First, the House of Justice glosses over the details by saying, “for various reasons, this proved unfeasible.” I’ve already discussed the details of why the location in Metropolitan park was denied, so I won’t repeat them here.
Second, the Chilean Bicentennial Commission’s recognition of this project is really being blown out of proportion here. If you recall the Commission’s role is to organize various projects and events to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Republic of Chile. This project is being recognized only because of the prestige that it brings to the country (lets face it, which enlightened government wouldn’t want something like this in their backyard?) and not due to any relevance to Chile, its history, or culture.
Third, the project is now officially behind schedule as the original ground breaking was supposed to have already taken place. Though I’m glad that they got their hands on some land rather quickly, it does seem that the project team was taken by surprise when the Metropolitan Park land offer fell through.
Now to get down to the numbers. As you know, the Baha’i world community has already been earmarking funds for the construciton of the Chile temple for years. I estimate there are around $10+ million on hand, or about one third of the estimated cost. (By the way, the currency being discussed is the US dollar.) I’m not sure just how realistic the $27 million (or the three year time table) is. Such projects have a tendency to run over-budget, especially in a developing country. But then again, the project team could pull it off without a hitch. I wish them the best.
And as usual, ancillary costs are not mentioned. I’m referring to the continual costs of maintenance and management once the building is constructed. In the world of large scale projects, usually a percentage or a dollar amount per sq. footage is quoted for such costs. We’ve already seen this happen with the Arc project on Mount Carmel. There the cost was around $250 million and afterwards we were informed that the ongoing costs are around $7 million annual. Using the same rough ratio these ongoing costs would be around $1 million for the Santiago temple.
If I were the Chilean Baha’i community I would be asking myself how in the world I’m expected to meet those costs. After all the Baha’i community in Chile is rather small (around 2500 from a population of around 16 million) and the standards of living are not that high. Previously built temples have shown that such costs are very real and must be taken into consideration (the recent refurbishment of the roof of the Frankfurt temple and comprehensive works of the Illinois temple being good example). Yet, I doubt these ideas are creeping into anyone’s mind as it is just too darn exciting to think about such an architectural marvel being built. But once they sober up, they will have to deal with it. Either they’ll have to meet the extra $1 million annual cost or the international Baha’i funds will have to (or some combination of the two).
Finally, I wanted to offer some heretical thoughts (and you thought the above was bad). Its just that I keep asking myself about the opportunity costs of this project. By that I mean, what else we could do with $30 million? How many humanitarian projects could we undertake? How many people’s lives could we improve or save?
Lets face it, the effect of this temple is minimal to the lives of people around the world and even those inside Chile. It really changes nothing. The only gain is a few prestige points in the eyes of architects around the world who may feature the structure in one of their magazines and ooh and aah over it for a few minutes (as they have already begun to do).
I don’t have anything against building temples per se. Its just that the priorities of the Baha’i world wide community are out of whack. We should concentrate on things like charitable funds and the Mashriqu’l-Adhkhar:
The most beloved of hopes will never show her face in these lands until charitable trusts are founded, their continuation is assured, and their scope widened, as mentioned and underlined before in the letters of this servant.
(Shoghi Effendi, December 30, 1926)
Let the friends recall and ever bear in mind the repeated exhortations and glowing promises of our beloved Master with reference to the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar, the crowning institution in every Baha’i community.
(Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, page 108)
I read these words and can’t believe that they are being ignored so flagrantly.
And I would prefer that things take shape organically with grass roots support, rather than arbitrary top down decisions imposed on all. Take this example: the AO is funneling funds from all around the world to build a really nice building in Chile. Not only does that effect Chile (which has to bear the ongoing costs once it is finished) but it effects other countries and communities who have a finite amount of resources and are now forced to channel some of these precious resources to this project, thus forgoing other projects in their own communities.
Why don’t we imagine how many local initiatives (yes, tiny little ones) can be started with $30 million? why don’t we imagine how many Mashriqs we can have?
Also, I truly wonder which has benefited the world more, a bookish professor who founded Grameen Bank (which has gone on to help millions of the poorest people in the Indian subcontinent) or the Baha’is who have built a beautiful lotus temple, which is just nice to look at?
Why can’t we set up something like that? or maybe ACCION, the most successful South American version of it?
Perhaps some will criticise this idea, claiming that we do not have the competence in the Baha’i community to create such programs. To that I say, balderdash. If we have the competence to build and manage such building projects then we can tap the resources to do these charitable projects as well. Its just a matter of putting money where your mouth is.
For more recent news about the Temple in Chile check out this entry (bottom of page).