The Tears of Mary

Published on April 16, 2005 by in Papal Excerpts

On November 6, 1994, Pope John Paul II dedicated the Shrine of Our Lady of Tears in Syracuse, Italy. The following is the homily he delivered during the dedication Mass. – Ed.

Dominus flevit (cf. Lk 19:41).

There is a place in Jerusalem, on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, where according to tradition Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem. In those tears of the Son of Man there was almost a distant echo of other weeping, which is spoken of in the first reading taken from the Book of Nehemiah. After their return from the Babylonian captivity, the Israelites prepared to rebuild the temple. But first they listened to the words of the Holy Scriptures and of Ezra the priest, who then blessed the people with the Book of the Law. Then they all broke into tears. In fact we read that the governor Nehemiah and the priest Ezra said to those present: “Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep (…) do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength” (Neh 8:9, 10).

Thus, the Israelites were weeping for joy over the recovery of the temple, over their regained freedom.

Christ’s tears on the Mount of Olives were not, however, tears of joy. In fact, he cried out: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling! Behold your house will be abandoned, desolate” (Mt 23: 37-38).

Jesus will say similar words later on the road to Calvary, when he meets the women of Jerusalem in tears.

Jesus’ love for the Holy City is expressed in his tears over Jerusalem

, together with his sorrow for its not so distant future, which he foresees: the city will be conquered and the temple destroyed; the young people will be subjected to his same torture, death on a cross. “At that time people will say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!,’ for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?” (Lk 23:30-31).

Gospels Speak Often of Jesus’ Emotion

We know that Jesus wept another time, at the tomb of Lazarus. “So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him.’ But some of them said, ‘Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?'” (Jn 11:36-37). Then Jesus, again showing deep emotion, went to the tomb, ordered the stone to be removed, and, raising his eyes to his Father, cried out in a loud voice: Lazarus, come out from the tomb! (cf. Jn 11:38-43).

The Gospel speaks again of Jesus’ emotion, when he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said: “I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will” (Lk 10:21). Jesus rejoices over the divine fatherhood; he rejoices because his task is to reveal this fatherhood, and he is pleased lastly because of a particular effect of this fatherhood on the childlike.

The Evangelist Luke defines all this as a rejoicing in the Holy Spirit. A rejoicing that encourages Jesus to reveal himself even more: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him” (Lk 10:22). (1)

At the Last Supper Jesus tells the Apostles of their future tears: “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.” And he adds: “When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world” (Jn 16:20-21). This is how Christ speaks of the sadness and joy of the Church, of her tears and of happiness, by referring to the image of a woman who gives birth.

The Gospel stories never mention the tears of Our Lady.

We do not hear of her groaning either on the night of Bethlehem, when the time had come for her to give birth to the Son of God, or even on Golgotha, when she stood at the foot of the Cross. We do not know anything even about her tears of joy when Jesus rose again.

Even if Sacred Scripture makes no reference to this fact, the intuition of faith does however speak in its favor. Mary who weeps with sadness or joy is the expression of the Church, which rejoices on Christmas night, suffers on Good Friday at the foot of the Cross and again rejoices at the dawn of the Resurrection. She is the Bride of the Lamb, which was presented to us in the second reading taken from Revelation (cf. Rev 21:9).

Mary’s tears are seen in her apparitions, with which, from time to time, she accompanies the Church during her journey on the highways of the world. Mary wept at La Salette in the middle of the last century, before the apparitions of Lourdes, during a period when Christianity in France was facing growing hostility.

Our Lady Wept During the Second World War

She weeps again here in Syracuse at the end of the Second World War. It is possible to understand those tears against the background of those tragic events: the tremendous massacre, caused by the conflict; the extermination of the sons and daughters of Israel; the threat to Europe that came from the East, from the openly declared atheism of communism.

The image of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Lublin also wept during that period: a little known fact, this, outside of Poland. The news of the occurrence in Syracuse was, however, widely disseminated and a great many pilgrims came here. Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński also came here on pilgrimage in 1957 after his release from prison. I too, as a young Bishop, came here during the Council, and I was able to celebrate Holy Mass here on the day of the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed.

Our Lady’s tears belong to the order of signs: they testify to the presence of the Mother in the Church and in the world. A mother weeps when she sees her children threatened by evil, be it spiritual or physical. Mary weeps when sharing in Christ’s tears over Jerusalem, or at the tomb of Lazarus or finally on the way of the Cross.

However, we should also remember Peter’s tears. Today’s Gospel tells of the confession of Peter near Caesarea Philippi. Let us listen to the words of Christ: “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father” (Mt 16:17). Other words of the Redeemer to Peter are well known to us: “Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times” (Jn 13:38). And thus it happened. But when, in the house of the high priest, at the cock’s crowing, Jesus looked at Peter; “and Peter remembered the word of the Lord… He went out and began to weep bitterly” (Lk 22:61-62). Tears of sorrow, tears of conversion to confirm the truth of his confession. Thanks to them, after the Resurrection, he was able to say to Christ: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (Jn 21:17)….

Today, in this place, I hear echoing within me the words of Christ who says to Peter: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:18-19).

These words of Christ express the supreme authority that he, as Redeemer, possesses: the power to forgive sins, a power acquired at the cost of his blood shed on Golgotha; the power to absolve and forgive.

May the Tears of Their Mother Guide Them Here

Shrine of Our Lady of Tears, you were erected to remind the Church of the tears of Mary.

It also recalls the tears of Peter, to whom Christ entrusted the keys of the kingdom of heaven for the good of all the faithful. May these keys serve to bind and loosen, for the redemption of every human misery.

May all those who are oppressed by the awareness of their sins, come here, within these welcoming walls, and experience the richness of the mercy of God and of his forgiveness! May the tears of their Mother guide them here. These are tears of sorrow for all those who refuse the love of God, for those families who are broken or in difficulty, for the young people seduced by a consumerist civilization and so often disoriented, for the violence that still spills so much blood and for the misunderstandings and hate which dig deep trenches between individuals and peoples.

They are tears of prayer: the Mother’s prayer that gives strength to every other prayer, and that rises in supplication for all those who do not pray because they are distracted by a thousand other interests, or because they are obstinately closed to God’s call.

They are tears of hope, which melt the hardness of hearts and open them to meeting Christ the Redeemer, source of light and peace for individuals, for families, for the whole of society.

O Lady of Tears, look with motherly goodness on the sorrow of the world! Dry the tears of the suffering, of the forgotten, of the desperate and of the victims of every violence.

Make everyone weep tears of repentance and of new life, which will open their hearts to the regenerating gift of God’s love. Make them weep tears of joy for having seen the profound tenderness of your heart. Praised be Jesus Christ!

L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, November 16, 1994, p. 5.


(1) Cf. Dominum et Vivificantem, n. 20.