VATICAN CITY, JAN. 7, 2004 ( During his first general audience of the year, John Paul II invited Christians to walk resolutely on "paths of goodness" with the Virgin Mary.

In a festive meeting attended by 4,000 pilgrims, including more than 100 circus professionals who performed, the Pope dedicated his address to reflect on Mary's divine motherhood, a mystery of Christmastide.

"A humble creature bore the Creator of the world!" the Holy Father exclaimed in a strong voice in Paul VI Hall. "Christmastide renews our awareness of this mystery, presenting us the Mother of the Son of God as co-participant in the culminating events of the history of salvation."

"Mary's whole existence is profoundly connected to that of Jesus," he added. "It is she who offers Jesus to humanity at Christmas. On the cross, at the supreme moment of the fulfillment of the redemptive mission, it will be Jesus who will make a gift of his Mother to every human being, as a precious inheritance of redemption."

When on the cross he says "Woman, behold your son," Jesus "entrusts his Mother to John and, at the same time, entrusts the Apostle and every believer to the love of Mary," the Pope added.

"In these last days of Christmastide, let us pause to contemplate in the crib the silent presence of the Virgin next to the Child Jesus," the Pope said.

"The same love, the same concern she has for her divine Son, she reserves for us," he continued. "Sustained and comforted by her maternal protection, we will be able to contemplate with new eyes the face of Christ and to walk more rapidly on the paths of goodness."