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Spiritual leader brings out followers' emotions - 2008-11-24

Monday, 2008, November 24
Calgary Herald
Stephane Massinon

With tears in his eyes and his voice quivering, Nash Jetha speaks quietly when asked why he came to see the Aga Khan's arrival Sunday night in Calgary.
'I am here for the greatest moment of my life,' he answers.

Having never had the opportunity to see the Ismaili spiritual leader in person, he said just being in the presence of his holiness was incredible.

'Emotionally, it was overwhelming. Since I was a young boy, he has always been our pillar,' said Jetha, who came from Edmonton to be at the arrival.

'It's hard to describe. I am from Africa and we were uprooted from there and came to Canada. He's been there all the time. He's taken care of us.'

Jetha was one of 300 Ismailis to be at a private airport hangar Sunday night where the spiritual leader arrived. The Aga Khan is touring Canada as part of his jubilee celebrations.

The gathered crowd -- after fits of false starts, nervous laughter and palpable excitement -- fell completely silent as the Aga Khan walked in, shook a few hands and received a gift from the mayor.

The crowd waived as he walked toward the Cadillac that awaited him and again toward the car as he left.

Many hugged after the event that lasted perhaps a few minutes.

The Aga Khan is the imam for the world's 15 million Shiite Imami Ismaili Muslims, of which there are an estimated 10,000 in Calgary.

As part of his celebrations, he plans to pay official visits to 35 countries.

Mayor Dave Bronconnier presented him with artwork from Calgary-area artist Mark Gibeau. It was a bowl representing the faces of diversity.

'The Ismaili community is a very strong component of the fabric of Calgary. It's incredible in terms of the volunteering they do, everything from the Stampede float to the homeless to building affordable housing units in the community of Mayland Heights,' said the mayor.

'This is an important visit with the spiritual leader arriving here today,' Bronconnier said.

The big event will take place today when an anticipated crowd of 14,000 people will gather at the Roundup Centre for an address from the 77-year old Geneva, Switzerland-born, Harvard-educated leader.

For Jetha, who will be in attendance, it will be momentous.

'We feel that wherever he puts his foot down, it's a blessing for us,' he said.

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