VATICAN CITY, JAN. 11, 2004 ( Jesus is "the human face of God and the divine face of man," John Paul II said when reflecting on the liturgical celebration of the Baptism of the Lord.

The Pope dedicated his traditional meeting today with thousands of pilgrims, gathered in St. Peter's Square to pray the Angelus, to comment on the meaning of the feast that closes the liturgical period of Christmastide.

In the Gospel reading of today's Mass, Jesus receives baptism from John the Baptist, and immediately afterward the words of God the Father are heard: "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."

"It is the first public manifestation of the messianic identity of Jesus, after the adoration of the magi," the Holy Father explained in his address, read in a clear voice on a sunny but chilly day.

"This is the reason why the liturgy relates the Baptism to Epiphany, with a chronological leap of some 30 years: The Child, whom the magi worshipped as the messianic King, is consecrated today by the Father in the Holy Spirit," he added.

The Pope emphasized that, in the evangelical narration, Jesus is presented as the "Lamb of God" who comes "to take upon himself and to take away the sin of the world."

Therefore, John Paul II exhorted, "we, who at Christmas celebrated the great event of the Incarnation, are invited to keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, the human face of God and the divine face of man."

The Pontiff concluded with a reference to the Blessed Virgin Mary, "unsurpassable teacher of contemplation."

"If she had to suffer humanly in seeing Jesus leave Nazareth, from his manifestation she received new light and strength for the pilgrimage of faith," he said. "The baptism of Christ constitutes the first mystery of light for Mary and for the whole Church. May it shed light on the path of all Christians!"

A smiling Pope spoke to the pilgrims from the window of his study. At the end of the meeting, he greeted Ukrainian pilgrims in their language.

In previous years on this feast day, John Paul II baptized babies in the Sistine Chapel. This year, his aides persuaded him to forgo this custom to spare him further fatigue.

On Monday, the Holy Father is scheduled to meet with ambassadors of countries accredited to the Holy See to appraise the international situation.