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Inside the newsroom: Into India to make the case for peace

Elder D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife, Sister Kathy Christofferson, are greeted by Prof. Dr. Vishwanath D. Karad, President, World Peace Centre (Alandi), M
Elder D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife, Sister Kathy Christofferson, are greeted by Prof. Dr. Vishwanath D. Karad, President, World Peace Centre (Alandi), MAEER"™s MIT World Peace University, as they arrive at the university prior to attending an award ceremony in Pune, Maharashtra, India, on August 14, 2017.
Prashanth Vishwanathan, For the Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — It takes time to get a journalist visa. And we didn't have time. But with a little help from Sen. Orrin Hatch's office, the necessary visa arrived by overnight mail from San Francisco just eight hours before Deseret News journalist Tad Walch was to board a flight and make the 10-hour journey to Heathrow airport in London.

After an eight-hour layover he was on a plane to Mumbai on India's west coast, about another 9- or 10-hour journey, depending on the runway traffic. But by the time he arrived in Mumbai, he found the only way to reach Pune, his destination, was to wait another 8 hours, fly to Bangalore in southern India and then turn around and fly back directly north to Pune.

It was ultimately a 40-hour journey to get there, and it would be followed by dodging "motorcycles, three-wheeled motorized rickshaws, cows, cars that pay zero attention to lanes, goats, dogs, water buffalo and pedestrians in places where no pedestrian should ever dare to go," Walch said in correspondence from the road.

Welcome to India.

It was worth the effort to witness and report the awarding of the World Peace Prize to Elder D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who accepted on behalf of the church, which owns this newspaper. As Elder Christofferson noted in an acceptance speech before more than 5,000 people:

"My friends, peace is our common aim. Peace between countries, peace within communities and peace, ultimately, for each of us."

The prize was named for the philosopher Saint Shri Dnyaneshwara and was presented at Maharashtra Institute of Technology World Peace University. As the Times of India reported, it was presented "in appreciation and recognition of his great yeomen service for championing the Noble Cause of Human Welfare, Communal Harmony and Universal Brotherhood through his unique mission to promote the Culture of Peace in the World."

Michael Nobel, a great-grandnephew of the founder of the Nobel Peace Prize, joined with others in conferring the award for the tremendous humanitarian work the church has done in India and elsewhere, work that will come to our readers next week in reports from Walch. That includes projects from students in Utah working there this summer.

Said Nobel: "The world today, with all its problems, it needs you, the church you represent and your work. It needs you more than ever."

That's evident in India and throughout the world. Narendra Modi is prime minister and is praised for his Clean India campaign, trying to clean the streets and improve the infrastructure. Open defecation is still a problem here and he has pushed for 12 million new toilets at a cost of $30 billion, Walch said.

Still, critics say he's allowed the rise of nationalism, not unlike those who support and back President Donald Trump in America, the Brexit backers in England and the nationalist wave evident in France and Japan. The more radical sides are blamed for violence, heightening the push for peace and moral voices.

Elder Christofferson brought his witness and expertise to the country, noting:

"Countries with strong traditions of religious freedom tend to be not only more stable and safe, but more prosperous. A recent study reached the remarkable conclusion that the presence of religious freedom in a country is one of only three factors significantly associated with global economic growth."

Being stable and safe resonates with Walch's photographer on this assignment. Prashanth Vishwanathan is a Mumbai native who lives in New Delhi with a resume that includes work for Reuters and Time magazine. His girlfriend is a documentary filmmaker whose focus is on shining a light to expose child sex trafficking.

Together they are trying to raise $75,000 for a foundation that would give cameras to children so that each child can tell his or her own story. Peace for these children can begin when they are no longer invisible and unheard.

Walch will return Monday, hoping to cut a few hours off his original journey time. But the lessons from those proclaiming peace and those desiring peace, are that we can all do our part. As India's Mahatma Gandhi said: "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."