VATICAN CITY, MAR. 21, 2001 ( The Blessed Virgin Mary is the "star of the third millennium," John Paul II said during a midweek general audience in which he went on quote the father of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther.

The Pope recalled passages of the commentary on the Magnificat written by Luther in 1521, in which he referred to the "Mother of God" as the example who "teaches us how we must love and praise God."

"She wishes to be the greatest example of God´s grace, so as to encourage all to confidence and praise of divine grace," the rebel theologian said.

Quoting other passages of both Eastern and Western Christian tradition, the Holy Father referred to Mary as "the sign of hope for the mass of poor, of the last of the earth," who wander through the world at the beginning of the third millennium. "She faithfully copies the choice of Christ, her Son, who repeats to all the afflicted throughout history: ´Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,´" the Holy Father said.

"The humble Virgin of Nazareth," the Pope said, quoting St. Ambrose, "is not the God of the temple, but the temple of God.´ As such, she guides all those who take recourse to her toward the meeting with the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

This is a road of faith that Mary also had to take, despite overwhelming difficulties. From the Annunciation, until her Son´s tragic death on the cross, her life unfolded in the "interplay of light and shadow, of revelation and mystery," the Pope said.

"Her exceptional pilgrimage of faith represents a constant point of reference for the Church, for individuals and communities, for peoples and nations, in a certain sense, for all humanity," John Paul II added. "She is the star of the third millennium, as she was at the beginning of the Christian era, the dawn that preceded Jesus on the horizon of history."

Her hymn, the Magnificat, "unites the spirits of the disciples of Christ beyond historical divisions, which we are determined to surmount in view of full communion," he said. In it, Mary celebrates "the primacy of God and His grace, who chooses the last and the neglected, the poor of the Lord, of which the Old Testament speaks; overturns their fortune and introduces them as protagonists in the history of salvation," the Pope explained.

The Pontiff concluded: "The Church follows Mary and the Lord Jesus walking on the torturous roads of history to raise, promote and appreciate the immense procession of women and men, poor and hungry, humiliated and offended."