Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, The Pope’s Emissary To Islam

The French diplomat-cleric leads Pope Benedict’s efforts to reach out to Muslims, while reaffirming his Catholic identity

Jean-Marie Guénois

ROME - On Sunday, he was in Pakistan. Saturday it was Iran. If it weren't for his Cardinal robes, Jean-Louis Tauran's travels might raise some eyebrows. After all, what could this Holy See diplomat possibly be doing in countries that are so often shunned by the international community? Tauran's smile, candid but never naïve, offers a pragmatic yet crucial response: "interfaith dialogue."

On September 12, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI delivered his controversial speech in Regensburg, where he raised questions about the violence within Islam. His comments sparked a sometimes violent reaction, and the risk of a true "clash of civilizations' appeared greater than ever. It was at that point that Benedict turned to Tauran for a delicate undertaking: calm the waters in the short-term, and lay the groundwork for lasting trust with the Muslim world.

Benedict originally gave Tauran control over what seemed like a relatively low-profile department: the Pontifical Council for Interfaith Dialogue. In the wake of the Pope's comments, though, this department would wind up at the center of the diplomatic chessboard.

Today, Tauran racks up plenty of frequent-flyer miles, traveling to distant countries where Church diplomats don't have a well-established presence: Egypt, Qatar, India, Jordan, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Tunisia, Indonesia, Azerbaijan, Lebanon, Iran and Pakistan. In 2008, he organized the first Catholic-Muslim summit in Rome, which was widely seen as a final closing of the Regensburg controversy.

These three remarkable years, however, shouldn't obscure the rest of Tauran's brilliant career. Under Pope John Paul II, he served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, from 1990 to 2003. When John Paul chose Tauran, then just 47, to take over this prestigious position, it caught many by surprise.

Although perhaps better known abroad than in his own country, this 67-year-old French prelate was recently honored with a doctorate honoris causa, from the Catholic Institute of Paris. The honor was in fact a challenge to Tauran, who famously avoids talking about himself.

In 1973, he left France for Rome, and the prestigious Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy of the Church. Applicants are admitted to the Academy based on their skills, and are trained as diplomatic priests for the Catholic Church. After serving stints in the Dominican Republic and Lebanon, the Holy See chose him in 1975 to represent the Church at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Ever humble about his accomplishments, this diplomat quickly accumulated vast international experience at the very highest levels. He was working the global corridors of power when the Cold War came to an end, when the Church expanded its diplomatic reach under John Paul, during the Lebanon War, and the first Gulf War. He also played a key role in establishing diplomatic relations with Israel.

Through his travels, Tauran says he's learned some valuable lessons. "I discovered that diplomacy is not actually a negotiation among competing strategies or religions, but simply a process of men and women capable of the best and worst, because they themselves are split between good and evil," he explains. "These are people who love and betray, or create and destroy, are capable of unforeseen technical prowess and barbaric acts—these are my brothers. I did not choose them. God asks me to love and serve them."

While denouncing "fanaticism, fundamentalism and sectarianism," Tauran cites three fundamental principles for interfaith dialogue: the duty of identity: affirming a spiritual identity; the courage of otherness: other believers can enrich me; and the frankness of our intentions: we are witness, we propose without the excess of proselytism.

On October 9, Cardinal Tauran was in charge of welcoming French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was to meet the Pope in St. Peter's Basilica. During a short prayer for France, the prelate affirmed: "We measure the complexity of managing society and the weight of those who have been called to guide them. We also know the importance of politics and economics. They are not, however, entirely under the control of man. God and individual conscience still come first! The only way a man can justify exerting control over another man is through servitude."

It's perhaps no surprise, then, that one of Tauran's favorite quotes comes from Pascal: "The property of power is to protect."

Read the original article in French

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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