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Christians unprotected in Bethlehem, Netanyahu warns pope

While speaking with Pope Francis, Netanyahu also said the Middle East had become a place where Christians were not safe.

Netanyahu singled out Bethlehem, where Francis visited on Sunday, as a place where Christians were not protected.

As Time magazine noted Sunday, the pope’s stops in Bethlehem and Amman belied the shrinking role for Christians in the region.

In Amman, Francis held mass in front a half-empty stadium, and in Bethlehem most of the 9,000 people attending the service at the Church of the Nativity were foreigners, according to the magazine.

The city, revered as the birthplace of Jesus, is today only about 15 percent Christian, down from  a majority just 50 years ago. Some blame Israel for the exodus, while others point to harassment from West Bank Muslims.

A recent Pew study backs up Netanyahu’s claims. The survey found that Christians faced discrimination in more countries in the Middle East and North Africa than any other region in the world.

Pope Francis celebrates an open-air mass in the Manger Square, next to the Nativity Church, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 25, 2014 (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)
Pope Francis celebrates an open-air mass in the Manger Square, next to the Nativity Church, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 25, 2014 (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)

Francis himself has spoken out against discrimination of Christians in the Middle East, telling a group of church officials from Syria Iran and Iraq in 2013 that he was concerned about  “the situation of Christians, who suffer in a particularly severe way the consequences of tensions and conflicts in many parts of the Middle East.”

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