MILAN, Italy, June 21, 2013–At a conference of Muslim and Catholic leaders in Milan, Cardinal Angelo Scola encouraged greater support for persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

“We need to help Christians more strongly,” Cardinal Scola said at the University of Milan, where the tenth annual meeting of the Oasis International Foundation was held this week.

“We need to support them with real love and a very strong friendship, but also with different means,” the archbishop of Milan told CNA in a June 18 interview.

Cardinal Scola founded Oasis to promote dialogue between Muslims and Christians, and this year’s conference discussed the tightrope between secularism and ideology so often walked in the Middle East.

“Above all, many Christians are being pushed to leave their countries, and it’s a very bad thing because Christianity was born in the Middle East,” said Cardinal Scola.

“In certain countries Christians are persecuted, and sometimes they even become martyrs.”

The Cardinal said that although “it’s difficult to imagine the future of Christians in the Middle East, I’m sure they will resist.”

He considered that there is a certain likeness to Jesus when Christians in the Middle East undergo suffering and persecution.

“Once, the previous Latin patriarch, (Michel) Sabbah, explained to me that Jerusalem is the place of Holy Friday. And that seemed to me a very good definition,” Cardinal Scola said during a coffee break of the conference.

“That must provoke all world Christians – above all in Europe and in the United States – to be more assured in witnessing, and offering a real experience of love and support,” the cardinal stated.

He believes that inter-religious dialogue will help the situation and that God is “leading history.”

Cardinal John O. Onaiyekan gave a presentation at the conference June 17 discussing how Muslims in his country of Nigeria are not a uniform group, and there is much variation in expression of Islam there.

“As Cardinal Onaiyekan said, people in the West need to avoid trying to define Muslims in an intellectual way,” said Cardinal Scola.

“I was impressed with Cardinal Onaiyekan’s speech, who told of the necessity to help Islam in Nigeria to understand the phenomenon of Boko Haram’s terrorism, in order to convince people of the necessity of constantly purifying religion.”

“We must avoid using adjectives (lightly), and enter into contact with the people themselves. And the point of reference must be the common experience of men and women around the world.”

“We are one family of God,” he said, and everyone shares in the fullness of humanity.

He highlighted the need to “avoid revenge and to choose the way of repentance.”

“But it’s a long path and we need to do that in a realistic way.”

The cardinal explained the need to avoid using force to dominate, and that “terrorism is an expression of ideologization and politicization of the faith.”

Cardinal Scola founded Oasis in 2004, after he was asked to do so by seven bishops of Damascus while he was rector of the Pontifical Lateran University. The Damascene bishops hoped for cultural support in the midst of Syrian society.

“They also told me of the necessity to use the Arabic language and to not limit ourselves to English,” he said.

This was because “without Arabic, it would be impossible to enter into real inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue” with Muslims.

“So step by step I found people who wanted to share in the project and we founded this ten years ago, with now around 100 people from around the world,” said the cardinal. (CNA)