By Ian Bush

by KYW’s Ian Bush

WAYNE, PA (CBS) — Do Christians have a future in the region where their religion was born? The Christian population continues to dwindle across the Middle East, due in part to persecution by extremist groups. An international conference starting Monday at Villanova University looks to bring the issue — and potential solutions — into sharp focus.

READ MORE: 3 Sharon Hill Police Officers Fired After Being Charged In Shooting Death Of 8-Year-Old Fanta Bility

So often, the headlines scream Shia vs. Sunni. Israel vs. the Palestinians.

“I saw this when I was envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks,” says Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, one of the speakers at the two-day event on the Main Line campus. “Christians kept coming up to me, asking that their issues be on the table, too.”

Attacks by Islamist extremists on Western countries receive the lion’s share of news coverage. But Zinni, a former CENTCOM Commander, says religious minorities live under the ever-present spectre of threats made by Islamic State terrorists and other jihadists.

READ MORE: Man Arrested For Shooting At Philadelphia Police Officers In Mayfair, Police Say

“They openly admit and execute genocide against large groups of Christians, like the Yazidis and the Syrian Christians and the Chaldeans and others,” he tells KYW Newsradio. “But it ought to be pointed out that there are Islamic groups that try to protect Christians. In Egypt, when the Muslim Brotherhood took over, there was an uptick in attacks on the Coptic Christian churches and people. Once the Muslim Brotherhood was removed, there was a sense — and I talked to the Coptic pope about this — that had declined. Many of the Islamic theological leaders located in Cairo really spoke out against the aggression toward Christians and helped protect them.”

The Christians in the Contemporary Middle East Conference is designed to examine what tools could work in the region and how to implement them.

“Is it diplomacy, economic support, providing security in some fashion, or supporting those in the region who could provide security?” Zinni asks. “What role, for example, could the military play? In some cases, the military is not the best solution and brings its own problems and issues. It’s about bringing attention to Christians in the Middle East, giving them a voice, and opening up a dialogue and a conversation.”

Sessions and speakers include public policy and think-tank experts, as well as people with first-hand experience of the conflicts.

MORE NEWS: New Castle County Man Omar Edwards Accused Of Taking Pictures Of Teenage Girl Inside Walmart

More information and free registration: