Local clerics discuss pope's upcoming trip to Mideast

Clerics say Christians suffer because of tension in region

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Jordan, the West Bank and Israel this weekend. His Holiness travels to the region with a powerful message, "co-existence without fear."

On "The Morning Show," Bishop Felipe Estevez of the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine and Dr. Nicholas Louh of the Greek Orthodox Church said they were excited about the upcoming trip because of the "historical significance and the positive outcome it will hopefully produce."

Pope Francis has expressed concerns for Christians in the region, saying they suffer because of tension in the Middle East.

The biggest concern, according to the bishop, is "the protection of the right to worship ... in their own country."

A Pew Research study found rising hostilities relating to religion in the region over the last seven years.

Father Louh said the only way to mitigate those hostilities is to "eliminate the hate and promote peace and love between people."

Sixty-five percent of Christians in the Middle East are Orthodox Christians, including Coptic Orthodox, Greek Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox. Another concern is that many churches and monasteries are being destroyed.

The pope said "we will not resolve ourselves to imagining a Middle East without Christians," and these two local leaders echo that sentiment.

They said it is absolutely a real concern, and the key to maintaining the Christian community is "resolving the issue between the Palestinians and Israelis."

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