Gathering at "a time of severe tension and conflict," particularly in the Middle East, 24 Catholic and Muslim leaders and scholars urged dialogue to promote greater respect and understanding and condemned all acts of violence committed in the name of religion.
Retired Pope Benedict XVI said dialogue with other religions is no substitute for spreading the Gospel to non-Christian cultures.
A small c catholic: I'm all for better interfaith and ecumenical relations, though it's hard to maintain optimism in times such as these. But I'm not giving up hope.
This interview was one I will not forget. This week, I spoke to the Rev. Canon Andrew White, an Anglican priest who is pastor of St. George's Church. That sounds rather ordinary until you learn that his church is in Baghdad, Iraq. In fact, it is the only Anglican church in all of Iraq.
War is just "senseless slaughter" and should never be seen as inevitable or a done deal, Pope Francis said.
"War drags people into a spiral of violence which then proves difficult to control; it tears down what generations have labored to build up, and it sets the scene for even greater injustices and conflicts," he said in a written message to a world summit of religious leaders.
"War is never a necessity, nor is it inevitable. Another way can always be found: the way of dialogue, encounter and the sincere search for truth," he wrote.
Former Israeli President Shimon Peres asked Pope Francis to head a parallel United Nations called the "United Religions" to counter religious extremism in the world today.
A small c catholic: Ever since 9/11, Americans have been blitzed with anti-Islam messages, some vicious, some subtle, but all seeking to discredit the faith.
"Sadly, in recent years, there has been a deliberate rejection of this call to engage in dialogue with our Muslim brothers and sisters by some in the Catholic Church."
Pope Francis will be accompanied on his first visit to the Middle East by Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Muslim leader Omar Abboud -- two friends from Buenos Aires.
It is the first time a pope has made an official visit accompanied by members of other faiths, and it underscores the interfaith focus of Francis' trip to the Holy Land, the Vatican said Thursday.
Commentary: Maybe the millennials will find or create secular equivalents to churches. But those alternatives will have to match the depth and motivational force of religion.