CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 31, 2003 ( The tears of the Blessed Virgin are a call to conversion and peace, particularly in the Mideast and Africa, says John Paul II.

When meeting today with pilgrims to pray the Angelus, the Pope recalled the 50th anniversary of the day that an image of Mary wept in Syracuse, Sicily.

On Aug. 29, 1953, in the home of Antonia and Angelo Iannuso, a plaster plaque of the Immaculate Heart of Mary shed tears.

The miraculous phenomenon, later recognized officially by Sicily's bishops, was prolonged for three consecutive days until Sept. 1, attracting the attention of newspapers worldwide.

That Sept. 1, a commission of doctors and scientists gathered a cubic centimeter of the liquid shed from the Virgin's eyes. The scientific study concluded that their composition was like that of human tears.

Today those tears are preserved in a reliquary that was taken to all Sicilian parishes during the current extraordinary Marian Year, which ends on Monday. The year was proclaimed to recall what the Pope described as "such an amazing event."

Among those present today in the courtyard of the summer papal residence of Castel Gandolfo was a group of pilgrims from Syracuse, who presented a gold crown for John Paul II's blessing. The crown will be placed on the head of the Virgin's image.

"How mysterious these tears are!" the Pope said. "They speak of suffering and tenderness, of comfort and divine mercy. They are the sign of a maternal presence, and an appeal to conversion to God, abandoning the way of evil to follow faithfully Jesus Christ."

The Pontiff concluded with a prayer addressed to the "sweet Lady of Tears," entrusting to her the Church and the whole world.

"Look at those who have most need of forgiveness and reconciliation; bring concord to families and peace among peoples," he implored. "Dry the tears that hatred and violence cause in many regions of the Earth, especially in the Middle East and the African continent."

He concluded: "May your tears, O Mother, be a pledge of conversion and peace for all your children."