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), traveled to Kampala and Mbale, Uganda, from May 29 to June 2 to discuss new initiatives promoting regional stability.
The visit included meetings with key Ugandan Anglican, Protestant, Roman Catholic and Muslim religious leaders.
"The main goal of this trip was to learn how to partner with these leaders and to discuss their interest in a regional interreligious conference being planned by the All African Conference of Churches," said Cutler.
According to Cutler, the U.S. Department of State supported and helped facilitate the meetings.
"Religion is intrinsically linked with the government," he said. "I represented CJTF-HOA and the U.S. government with a religious voice." Cutler's meetings were conducted in coordination with U.S. Embassy, Kampala, officers.
Cutler recalled similar engagements from his 2009 tour in Iraq.
"We use this same approach to engage with religious officials throughout East Africa," he said. "Like Iraq, the leaders here were eager to learn more about what we do and all expressed a keen interest in attending an upcoming interreligious conference in Kenyan later this year."
"This was a very productive meeting which allows us to establish a relationship," said Father Joseph Htuwa, chancellor of the Ugandan diocese of the Roman Catholic Church.
According to the National Census of October 2002, Christians of all denominations made up 85 percent of Uganda's population. While Uganda is a predominantly Christian country, about 12 percent of the residents are Muslim.
The President of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, Sheikh Kavuma Siraj Zaid, hosted Cutler at Kampala's Gaddafi Mosque, the offices of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council.
"This is the first time I have ever spent time with a Jewish Rabbi," Zaid explained. "It was a very enjoyable time and we were able to have discussions about many important topics. We were very pleased to have the Rabbi visit and begin a new friendship."
Cutler expressed appreciation for the graciousness of the Muslim community.
"They welcomed me and were very hospitable. We had an extensive theological conversation and I believe it was a very positive meeting."
Cutler was asked about Judaism traditions such as the Sabbath and the laws of kosher.
"I also spoke about our common Abrahamic tradition and gave some examples using Jewish Midrash, or interpretation," he said.
One stop was at the Ugandan Jewish community of Abayudaya, which is the only Jewish community in Uganda. There are approximately 1,200 members of Ugnada's Jewish community. Cutler conducted religious services with local Rabbi Gershom Sizomu.
"It was a very special occasion to have the Chaplain come here today," said Sizomu. "He came with messages of peace and reconciliation and is discussing issues common to all religious faiths." Cutler also lead part of a Shabbat service and gave the homily at the village synagogue.
Bishop Zac Nyiringiye of the Anglican Church in Uganda hosted Cutler and expressed interest in a continuing dialogue.
"Any time we can discuss matters impacting us all, it is time well spent. So, I was very pleased that the Rabbi took time to visit here and explain his objectives," Nyiringiye said.
"Overall, it was a very successful trip," Cutler said, citing key leader engagements with eight Ugandan religious leaders. "I think several of them may have been a bit surprised that a U.S. military officer and a Jewish Rabbi would call on them," he said. "But they were all very receptive to discussions and all see the need for peace and reconciliation. On that point everyone sees a clear common interest."