By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Weeping Madonna of Syracuse is a sign that Mary not only cries because of people’s pain, but she also cries to soften the hearts of other believers so that they will help, Pope Francis said.

“Through the tears of the Blessed Virgin, the Lord wants to soften our hearts, which at times have dried up in indifference and hardened in selfishness,” the pope said April 6 during a meeting with members of the St. Angela Merici Foundation in Syracuse, Italy.

“The Lord wants to make our consciences sensitive, so that we let ourselves be touched by the pain of our brothers and sisters and to move us to compassion for them, committing ourselves to lifting them up, lifting them up, accompanying them,” the pope said.

The foundation runs a hospital, a home for the elderly and rehabilitation centers in Sicily, drawing inspiration from the Weeping Madonna of Syracuse, a plaster image of Mary that began weeping in 1953. After an investigation, local church authorities said there was no natural explanation for what happened, and tests on the liquid determined they had the same composition as human tears do.

Pope Francis encouraged foundation members and the staff of the foundation’s facilities to carry out their work with professionalism and a spirit of sacrifice, expressing “in concrete gestures the tears wept by the Virgin Mary and, at the same time, her maternal desire to dry her children’s tears.”

“I ask for a grace for you, which is the most important of all: the grace to know how to be moved, the capacity to cry with those who cry,” the pope told them.

The “worst evils of our society,” he said, are “the indifference, the individualism that closes us off from the fate of those around us, and the anesthesia of the heart that no longer moves us when faced with the dramas of daily life.”

“Please,” Pope Francis said, “do not be ashamed to weep, to feel emotion for those who suffer; do not spare yourselves in exercising compassion for those who are fragile, because Jesus is present in these people.”