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Pope visits Turkey on doorstep of Middle East chaos

The pope's three-day visit to Turkey is challenging amid a backdrop of war and religious unrest. (Source: CNN) The pope's three-day visit to Turkey is challenging amid a backdrop of war and religious unrest. (Source: CNN)
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ISTANBUL, TURKEY (CNN) - Pope Francis begins a three-day visit to Turkey on Friday.

And Vatican officials say the pontiff will not shy away from speaking out on his concerns for Christians being targeted by ISIS extremists.

But he will not meet with refugees, as he has done on previous trips to the region.

That's likely to be a huge disappointment, especially to Christians in the refugee ranks.

In Istanbul, a generation of Turkish Assyrians has something their parents did not: A school focusing on ensuring their language, dating back to the early years of Christianity, is not forgotten.

It's the first of its kind in this predominantly Muslim country, a rare positive development for Christians in the region.

Juxtaposed against that of a generation lost for these Syrian Christian refugee children, the staircase is the playground, blissfully too young to fully understand all they have already lost and stand to lose in the future.

In a cramped room downstairs young men talk of the future.

“Yes we have hope,” Yousuf responds. “That's why we came here to get out and live another life, to start a new life, in another country.”

“If there was 1 percent of hope in Syria we would not have left our country,” Ma'an adds.

In the last decade, first al-Qaida and then ISIS have forced the majority of Christians to flee Iraq and Syria, only a fraction remain deciding to place their faith in God or pay the terrorists a protection tax.

Growing numbers, especially from Syria, are ending up in Turkey, a nation already reeling under the influx of around 1.5 million Syrian refugees, the vast majority of them Muslim.

They are politically uneasy with a highly controversial and conservative government that its opponents fear will challenge Turkey's post Ottoman Empire secular identity.

And an atmosphere of increased insecurity with ISIS at Turkey's border and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announcing the terrorist groups intention to conquer Rome and the world.

It is against this complex backdrop that Pope Francis makes what is arguably one of the most challenging trips of his papacy.

It is intended to not only strengthen bridges between sister churches, but across religious divides.

"In a time of chaos in the Middle East, in a time where there is Muslim-Christian fighting, it is a beautiful thing to have a pope visit a Muslim country,” said Kenan Gurdal, deputy director of Virgin Mary Ancient Assyrian Church Foundation. “It is a very positive thing and hopefully this can be a lesson to the world and that it contributes to peace.”

An optimistic thought, but for the Christian refugees, who did not know of the pope's visit,  that's little solace.

Georgette lives in constant fear for her son and grandchildren still in Syria. The rest of her children are in Sweden, the pain of it all is just too much.

She is waiting to join them, as is Jalila Gorgis. All her children are also in Sweden and she says she has been waiting for three years to be accepted by the family reunification program.

“Look these are my medications. These are all my medications,” she says, her eyes filling with tears. “I just want to see my children before I die.”

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