Three years after a terrorist attack in downtown Djibouti prompted the need for increased liberty restrictions here, Camp Lemonnier personnel are again attending religious services in downtown Djibouti.
Prior to 2014, Camp Lemonnier-stationed Roman Catholics and their Djiboutian counterparts met weekly in faith, worshipping together inside the main Catholic church of Djibouti – Cathédrale Notre-Dame du Bon-Pasteur de Djibouti, known in English as Our Lady of the Good Shepherd Cathedral.
Then, in May 2014, a grenade attack on a local Djiboutian restaurant resulted in deaths and injuries of several local nationals. Regional violent extremist organization (VEO) al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack.
However, the Djiboutian-American partnership has proven too strong to be broken. Last month, the Combined Joint task Force – Horn of Africa Religious Affairs Office began the mission of once again uniting the faithful in Djibouti’s cathedral.
“The job of Navy chaplains is to provide, facilitate, care and advise,” said U.S. Navy Capt. David Rodriguez, CJTF-HOA chaplain and director of the office of religious affairs. “So, while we provide worship services based on our own particular faith groups, we also facilitate. If someone comes to us with a faith-based need, we do our best to make help them with that need. So, bringing our people out for a Roman Catholic service is facilitating.”
And in May, the request to go back to the local cathedral was made.
CJTF-HOA Religious Affairs Office worked with Bishop Giorgio Bertin, appointed bishop to Djibouti and an apostolic administrator for Somalia, to make the amalgamation of parishioners arise once again. According to Rodriguez, the bishop – who is also a contractor for the installation and occasionally conducts Catholic services here – sees the Roman Catholic members of Camp Lemonnier as part of his flock.
Symbolic of the union between the Djiboutian people and Camp members, U.S. Navy Lt. Francis Okoli, a Catholic chaplain on Camp Lemonnier, joined Bishop Bertin in shepherding the last two services.
“The hope is that we will build up the relationships we already have with the Djiboutians,” said Okoli.
In addition to monthly masses assisting the religious needs of members here, they also are considered part of strategic religious ministry in that they can be considered key leader engagement events.
“[Bishop Bertin] is a leader in Djibouti and a key leader for the Roman Catholica community here,” stated Rodriguez.
Maintaining partnerships within East Africa is a critical component in the CJTF-HOA mission. Those relationships can be fostered through nations engaging in a communal culture, such as religion.
“When we go to the cathedral, we have American Roman Catholics worshipping with Djiboutian Roman Catholics,” Rodriguez continued. “It strengthens partnerships as well as the Roman Catholic community in Djibouti comprised of mostly Djiboutians, Americans and French.”