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World Peace Prize presented in India to Mormon leader

Elder Christofferson Peace Prize ceremony

PUNE, India — A senior LDS Church leader accepted a World Peace Prize in India and called on world leaders to recognize that a failure to accommodate religion results in conflict.

White horses led a large procession to honor Elder D. Todd Christofferson, who walked down a green carpet on the street outside the World Peace Center in Pune, India, to the sounds of Indian bagpipers and high-pitched cymbals.

'My friends, peace is our common aim,' said Elder Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 'Peace between countries, peace within communities and peace, ultimately, for each of us.'

Michael Nobel, a great-grandnephew of the founder of the Nobel Peace Prize, joined the World Peace Prize Committee and the president of World Peace University as they conferred the award named for Saint Shri Dnyaneshwara, a revered 13th-century Hindu philosopher.

Elder Christofferson Peace Prize ceremony

'The world today, with all its problems, it needs you, the church you represent and your work,' Nobel said. 'It needs you more than ever. Thank you, Elder Christofferson, and my sincere thanks to your organization for continuing your work.'

World Peace University President Vishwanath Karad said the award honored what he called Elder Christofferson's 'relentless mission of love, compassion and sacrifice.'…

'Elder Christofferson has personally visited and worked with church members and government, civic and religious leaders in 80 nations' since he began his service as a general authority of the church in 1993, said Elder Robert Kumar William, an LDS Area Seventy from Bangalore, India.

Elder Christofferson Peace Prize ceremony

The church has provided $1.89 billion in humanitarian aid throughout the world since 1985.

'Why would they deserve (the prize)?' Nobel said. 'The members of the church have shown us that it's possible to translate into worldwide action something that lies deep in the hearts of many of us, compassion for others. ... The Mormon church and its organizations richly deserve this commission for its outstanding humanitarian accomplishments.'

Calling the honor one beyond his dreams, Elder Christofferson said he and the LDS Church and its members were grateful for the 2017 Philosopher Saint Shri Dnyaneshwara World Peace Prize. The prize has been awarded by Maharashtra Institute of Technology World Peace University eight times since 2006, generally to spiritual leaders from India. Elder Christofferson is the first recipient from outside Asia.

'As a little boy growing up on a farm milking a cow, I never imagined I would be sitting here,' he said during a news conference afterward. 'It was such an honor. I'm still having a hard time believing it's real. I'm gratified. I know it's not simply to me personally, but I represent several millions of people who really want to bless the lives of their fellow man, who believe in being faithful disciples of Jesus Christ and try to incorporate his character in their lives.'

He spoke in a traditional American blue suit and blue tie but draped in an orange shawl with gold trim and shiny gems that caught the light. He also wore the gold medal given to him as part of the prize. The honor also includes a cash award of 525,000 rupees, about $8,000, which Elder Christofferson will be donating to a school for the disabled in India.

Elder Christofferson Peace Prize ceremony

Positive influence

He used his acceptance speech to focus on the good religion does and to urge world leaders and policymakers to consider the broad array of research he outlined about the positive impact of religion on people, communities, economies and nations.

'Failing to appreciate the good religion does society or the nation as a whole and to accommodate religion whenever possible results in social conflict,' he said.

'Government officials and policy makers, like yourselves, who seek to establish lasting peace and prosperity for people of all faiths should understand why and how,' he said. ... 'True religion offers a stable foundation for a just and healthy society. It strengthens and ennobles nations, communities and individuals. It is my hope that we will all recognize and appreciate the great good religion does and work together — as people of diverse faiths or no faith at all — to build more peaceful nations and ultimately a more peaceful world.'

Elder Christofferson Peace Prize ceremony

He cited dozens of studies that showed religion produces happy marriages; healthy, successful children; strong moral character; safe communities; and active, engaged citizens.

Called a champion of religious freedom by one presenter, he echoed a talk he gave Friday in Cambridge, England, where he made the case that religious freedom promotes social and political diversity and improves incomes for women and global economic growth.

'Recognizing and protecting faith,' he added, 'is the path to peace.'

It also can lead to prosperity, he said.

'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. Consider what a difference that principle could make. Imagine what changes would happen if more officials and policymakers recognized that protecting religious freedom is one of the three most significant things they could do to promote the economic growth and well-being of their country.'

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Elder Christofferson Peace Prize ceremony