The two chaplains deployed on Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019 (IPE19) may have different religions but their roles were the same: to counsel and provide pastoral care to all on board.
Father Paul Stuart, the Senior Chaplain aboard the Royal Australian Navy’s flagship HMAS Canberra, was on the ship as it visited Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia.
“It is natural for people to be curious, especially when Islam is in the media all the time."
From Malaysia onwards, he was assisted by Chaplain Mogamat Majidih Essa, the first Muslim imam in the Australian Defence Force (ADF).
“Imam Essa’s presence on the ship is evidence of our diversification, both as a defence force and as a nation,” Chaplain Stuart said.
“His rank slide [which contains the Islamic crescent and star] raises awareness that we are not a monoculture in Australia … we do not have a single religion.”
Chaplain Essa, who migrated to Australia from South Africa in 2007, joined the Navy in 2016. He is posted to HMAS Cerberus, where he attracts some attention.
“It is natural for people to be curious, especially when Islam is in the media all the time,” Chaplain Essa said.
“However, my role is not just focused on the religious aspect … it’s about providing counsel, support, and pastoral care.”
Chaplain Stuart agreed and said the counselling role was paramount to a ship’s chaplain.
“Few sailors who knock on my door are religious,” he said.
“Rather, they see the chaplain as a trustworthy person to talk to … a reputation we have built up over decades of going in to bat for sailors in times of war and peace.”
Chaplain Stuart, an ordained Catholic priest, joined the Navy in 2005, the sixth generation of his family to serve in the Australian or British navies.
“Few sailors who knock on my door are religious."
Chaplain Essa is the first member of his family to serve in any navy.
The Australian National Imams Council nominated him for the position of chaplain after being contacted by the Navy’s Chaplaincy Branch, which was diversifying its membership.
The highlight of Chaplain Essa’s deployment was conducting a buka puasa ceremony on the wharf at the port of Tanjung Priok in Jakarta, Indonesia.
“The buka puasa is the breaking of the fast at sunset during Ramadan,” Chaplain Essa said.
“It was a privilege to conduct the ceremony for our Indonesian guests before they came aboard Canberra for the official reception.”
The head of Indonesia’s navy, Admiral Siwi Sukma Adji, took part in the ceremony, as did Australia’s Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Michael Noonan.
The tri-service IPE19 promoted security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region and allowed Australia to cement its diplomatic and defence relations with regional partners.