One Western leader who has made a point of listening to the concerns of the Christians of the Muslim world is Venice's Cardinal Angelo Scola, host of the two-day encounter at the 17th century Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. Scola is rapidly becoming Catholicism's most influential voice — beyond the Pope himself — on matters related to the Muslim world. From Venice, which for centuries has served as a bridge betweeen civilizations, the Cardinal founded Oasis, a cultural and study center and twice-annual journal that gathers perspectives from Catholics in Muslim countries. The initiative is both as a way to safeguard the rights of Christian minorities, and to promote mutual understanding between the Church and Islam.
"We gain knowledge about the different forms of Islam by starting with what the Christians living in these various realities suggest to us," Scola said. In the past, many in the Vatican hierarchy believed it was too risky to raise the issues of religious liberty and violence in Islamic countries. "Sometimes we have been too timid," Scola said. "We can't stay quiet. We want the encounter. It is vital to distinguish fundamentalism not just from the so-called 'moderate' Muslims, which can be an ambiguous term, but from the masses in the Islamic world."Scola hopes that working with Christians in Islamic countries will also help Europe better face the challenges post by its growing Muslim immigrant population. Focused on what he calls the "hybridization" of cultures that comes with mass migration, Scola says the challenge is finding a balance between integrating new populations and maintaining the identity of the native culture.