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Pope Francis and the power of tears


Weeping woman

In 1969 the Victorian premier Sir Henry Bolte famously said of protesting railway workers: 'They can march up and down till they're bloody well footsore, it's nothing to do with me.' Bolte was unmoved by the protesters in much the same way that recently members of the current Coalition Government were unimpressed when students hectored Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at Sydney University and former Coalition identity Sophie Mirabella at Melbourne.

There is a place for strident but non-violent protest, but the cause is lost if the intention or effect is to intimidate or coerce. If protesters do manage to persuade authorities to agree to their demands, the change will be temporary or piecemeal unless they have also moved hearts and minds.

The best way of doing this is through meaningful symbolic gesture. We will long remember Pope Francis bowing his head in prayer during his May visit to the Middle East, at Israel's graffiti-covered concrete separation wall, with a Palestinian girl holding a flag by his side. This was an unscheduled moment that allowed him to cut through with his message that the impasse between Israelis and Palestinians is 'increasingly unacceptable'. 

It needed to be matched by a further act of symbolism on the other side of the security wall, hence Francis' subsequent unscheduled stop, at a cemetery for victims of terrorism at Mount Herzl. This allowed him to go some way towards establishing trust with Israelis skeptical of 'platitudes about Middle East peace that refuse to condemn Hamas terrorism'.

Catholic Religious Australia (CRA) took its cue from Francis and his mastery of the art of symbolism, when it embarked upon a campaign of National Lament for Australia's harsh and punitive policies against asylum seekers (CRA designated 1–8 June the campaign's Week of Prayer and Prophetic Presence). 

Francis had said last year: 'We are a society which has forgotten how to weep.' Heartfelt weeping, he suggested, is 'the cry of the penitent, the cry of the brother and the sister who are looking upon so much human misery'.

The most potent moments in current affairs television occur when the person being interviewed is shown to cry, yet we're taught to believe that 'breaking down' shows we're not in command of the argument. In fact it reveals the humanity of the person, and often establishes an instant bond with those who witness their tears.

CRA stresses the National Lament is not a protest, but 'a symbolic action showing that we lament the treatment of people seeking asylum in Australia and are standing in solidarity with these people, our sisters and brothers'. The result could surprise.

We will never know what impact crying railway workers might have had on Bolte, But surely Bishop could not have been unmoved if the jostling students had instead wept, in a genuine manner, over the lost educational opportunity occasioned by the Federal Budget.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street. 

Weeping image by Shutterstock.

Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Pope Francis, Julie Bishop, Henry Bolte, Federal Budget, Palestine, Israel, peace, protest



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Existing comments

My tears are for the lower standards in our education system. I weep that we don't teach our children to think and analyse. None of this is recent, it's been a creep over many years and a general community unawareness or apathy. One only has to compare the BBC and the ABC web sites as a starting point. ABC news had such high standards and now is closer to infotainment with the readers showing all the emotion of their own opinions. Are they the product of a university education? The British Jesuits online journal Thinking Faith is another place of high standard thinking - enlightenment and encouragement in one's spiritual journey.

Jane | 02 June 2014  

Not sure we've been taught not to cry. Certainly bawling your eyes out playing footy is a waste of time,but I've never been told not to cry, I've wept in early years past but at 70, I can't be bothered.

Father John George | 02 June 2014  

I hope I never cease to cry- To feel the real that seeps and runs, The catch-ed breath, the sob and sigh, The moment so intense and stretching out- The pain that is the love of me and you and every soul that hopes and hurts

Paul Dignam | 02 June 2014  

Thanks Michael. I have experienced and lived the truth of what a CLC friend said many years ago, 'When vulnerability meets vulnerability the result is intimacy. When vulnerability meets power the result is alienation'. Jesus was so often moved in both heart and mind. Can we be less?

Mary | 09 January 2015  

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