VATICAN CITY — Christianity and even religious belief are in grave danger across the globe, risking oblivion, Pope Benedict said.
"Across vast areas of the earth, faith runs the danger of extinguishing like a flame that runs out of fuel," he said.
The world faces "a profound crisis of faith, and a loss of a sense of religion constitutes the biggest challenge for the church today," he said.
The pope said the renewal of faith has to be a priority for all members of the church and said he hoped the upcoming Year of Faith, starting in October, would further such effort.
Pope Benedict met Jan. 27 with about 70 officials, members and consultants of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office he led for more than 20 years before being elected pope.
He said integral to helping the Gospel message seem more credible in today's world was Christian unity — a theme that members of the congregation discussed during their four-day plenary meeting.
Pope Benedict said the search for Christian unity requires a solid foundation in truth and Scripture, not the establishment of rules and agreements that are mutually beneficial.
"Rather, the heart of true ecumenism is faith, where people encounter the truth that is revealed in the word of God," he said.
"Without faith, the whole ecumenical movement would be reduced to a form of 'social contract' that's adhered to out of common interest," the pope said.
Even though dialogue has borne much fruit, in ecumenical talks the church must guard against the risk of believing all religions are equal, and it must be sure not to distort or obscure Catholic doctrine.
The Second Vatican Council call for the sincere search for full unity with all Christians is a process animated by the Word of God. The truth and faith must be central to ecumenical dialogue, and those involved in dialogue must face controversial questions with courage, he said.
Ecumenical dialogue cannot ignore "the great moral questions of human life, the family, sexuality, bioethics, freedom, justice and peace," he said.
"It would be important to talk about these issues with only one voice, drawing on the foundation in Scripture and in the church's living tradition" so as to discover God's logic and plan for creation, he said.
By defending the foundational values of the faith and church tradition, "we defend man, we defend creation," the pope said.