VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI urged the world's bishops on Sunday to try to bring back Catholics who have left the church as he opened a three-week meeting to reinvigorate the church's evangelization mission.

Some 262 cardinals, bishops and priests from around the world are in Rome for the meeting, or synod, called to give impetus to the pope's efforts to re-evangelize parts of the world where Catholicism has fallen by the wayside.

The synod coincides with the 50th anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 meetings that modernized the church.

Benedict has long lamented that in Europe and the Americas, Catholics no longer practice their faith or pass it on to their children. That concern is reflected in the synod's working document that will form the basis of discussion over the next three weeks.

"There is a clear link between the crisis in faith and the crisis in marriage," the pope said.

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The so-called "new evangelization" is a top priority for Benedict, who routinely laments how cultures in Europe and the West that were once profoundly Christian have become increasingly secular.

The church has been beset by competition from rival Protestant churches in Latin America, dissent from Catholics who oppose church teaching on homosexuality and desertions in the United States and Europe from Catholics fed up by years of sex abuse scandals.

"The church exists to evangelize," Benedict said in his homily, urging a new missionary spirit among the church's pastors to reawaken the faith among Catholics who have been baptized but no longer practice their faith.