Chaplain Meets with East Africa Religious Leaders
Chaplain (U.S. Navy Captain) Jon Cutler, director of Religious Affairs for Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), and U.S. Navy Chief Religious Programs Specialist Antoine Roach traveled to Nairobi, Kenya and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from April 25 to May 1 to meet with religious leaders and discuss new initiatives promoting regional stability.
The trip included meetings with representatives from the All Africa Council of Churches (AACC), Kenyan Ministry of Defense (KMOD) chaplains, the United Religions Initiative (URI) and the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council.
“The State Department recognized that in order to engage Afghan and Iraqi communities, you have to meet with the imams,” said Cutler. “Initially there was hesitancy and resistance, so our personnel sought commonality and [successfully] met with these leaders,” he said.
Cutler said he uses this same approach to engage with religious officials throughout East Africa.
“Religion is intrinsically linked with the government,” said Cutler. “When I meet with these individuals, I come representing CJTF-HOA and the U.S. with a religious voice.”
Cutler recounted Chaplain (U.S. Air Force Captain) Walid Habash, who traveled throughout Djibouti, Ethiopia and Tanzania while deployed in support of CJTF-HOA in 2010.
“Habash was a tremendous hit because here was a Muslim chaplain in uniform,” said Cutler. “It was a powerful message that the U.S. is pluralistic and not anti-Islam. His visits were so successful that the U.S. ambassadors to Tanzania and Djibouti wanted him to return.”
Cutler, Roach, Chaplain (U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel) David Terrinoni and Dr. Marie Besancon, CJTF-HOA Social Cultural Research Advisory Team briefed senior officers and chaplains assigned to the KMOD on April 26 at their Nairobi headquarters. One topic discussed was bringing Kenyan religious liaison officers to Camp Lemonnier.
According to Cutler, three KMOD chaplains are scheduled to visit Camp Lemonnier for three weeks and meet the CJTF-HOA commander and U.S. chaplains and Fleet and Family Support Center personnel. Muslim, Catholic and Protestant chaplains will have the opportunity to deliver a sermon at the Enduring Freedom Chapel and provide religious counseling to camp personnel.
The program will also involve engagements in Djibouti with Muslim, Catholic and Protestant leaders.
Bishop (Kenyan Colonel) Alfred Rotich, Kenyan Ministry of Defense (KMOD), spoke about the importance of interfaith dialogue in East Africa.
“Religion is vital to building relationships in Kenya, and we should seize on this opportunity,” said Rotich.
According to the online Kenya Information Guide, 98 percent of the country’s population practices formal religion.
Cutler and his staff worked to build relationships in Addis Ababa as well. They met with Sheikh Ahmedin Abdullahi Chello, leader of the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council, April 29, and Ambassador Mussie Hailu, United Nations Economic Commission representative and URI regional director, May 1, to discuss an upcoming interfaith conference scheduled to occur in October and led by the AACC and CJTF-HOA personnel.
“It’s time to make religion a healing force,” said Hailu. “The missing element is how can we contribute in a positive way to our society and promote common understanding. When it comes to peace, we all need to be stakeholders.”