Father Abraham Had Many Sons
February 2, 2022
“Father Abraham had many sons
And many sons had Father Abraham.
I am one of them, and so are you!
So let’s all praise the Lord!”
This song, which I learned during Totus Tuus, ran through my head as we made the bus ride to Hebron. There we would see one of the only combined mosques and synagogues in the world. The reason for this unusual arrangement is that the synagogue and mosque are located above the Cave of Machpelah, the place purchased by Abraham as a burial place for his wife, Sarah. Eventually, this would become the final resting place for the Patriarchs and their wives: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah.
During the ride, I learned more about the history of this spot. It had been a church in the Byzantine period, then was turned into a mosque, was returned to being a church by the Crusaders, and was reconverted into a mosque until the Israeli army took it in 1967. Since then, it has been in its present state of synagogue and mosque. But this state has been far from peaceful. In 1968, a Muslim threw a hand grenade into the synagogue during Jewish New Year services, while in 1994, Israeli Baruch Goldstein opened fire in the mosque, killing 29 and injuring many more.
As I learned about the bloody history of this site, many thoughts and strong emotions ran through my head and heart. One was, “Why can’t we all just acknowledge that we are children of Abraham like the song?” But is it possible to put aside centuries of conflict as if it had never happened? Is simply ignoring past wrongs the path to true peace?
As a Christian entering first the mosque and then the synagogue, I felt some tension at this spot. The Patriarchs and Matriarchs are important for my faith, as they are for Jews and Muslims. And yet Christians are only permitted to visit and not to pray, while the site is divided in half between Jews and Muslims, not because all the members of the Abrahamic religions are able to coexist peacefully, but as an often-unstable compromise.
What is the path to peace? I don’t have an answer, but as I left the Tomb of the Patriarchs, I felt a greater connection to both the Jews and Muslims who venerated the Patriarchs and Matriarchs buried at this holy place. I knew I could not ignore the past violence perpetrated against one another at this spot, but that does not erase the fact that we are all children of Father Abraham, and that is still reason to praise the Lord and pray for peace: “For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility…that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace” (Eph 2:14-15).
Diocese of Joliet