About a thousand people gathered in Westminster Cathedral to welcome Little Amal, the 3.5m puppet of a 10-year old unaccompanied Syrian refugee girl, on 25th October. Her journey across Europe, from the Turkey-Syria border to Manchester, is intended to highlight the plight of unaccompanied child migrants and the dangers they face on the way.
Amal, whose name means ‘hope’ in Arabic, was greeted by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, and the Zimbabwean chaplaincy choir on the steps of the Cathedral. She was ushered in by the choir from the Congolese chaplaincy to rousing cheers from the congregation.
The visit followed a special liturgy of welcome acknowledging the perilous journey that refugees, especially unaccompanied child migrants, make in search of a safe haven and the Church’s teaching to welcome those who arrive in our midst.
Cardinal Nichols noted that Amal is tall and is easily seen, but that many refugees are invisible in our midst: ‘In our city, in your street and school, there are those who have left their country for reasons not of their own making: war, persecution, climate change.’
He called attention to the many unaccompanied child refugees ‘who, in this country, are taken into slavery and exploitation while separated from their parents.’
‘We mustn’t overlook, ignore or reject refugees,’ he said. ‘It is good, right and Christian to welcome the stranger in our midst.’
Addressing Amal, he said: ‘Many before you have to this Cathedral from overseas and been welcomed. They have settled here and enriched the Church.
Much as Amal brings us joy, he said, ‘We should help migrants and refugees to develop their talents, and allow them to bring joy to the Church and society.’
Amal’s journey through the Cathedral took her to the Chapel of St Paul to look at the mosaics of the perilous journeys that the Apostle made during his travels around the Mediterranean proclaiming the Gospel.
Amal has been walking for 8,000km from the Turkey-Syria border in search of her mother, a journey that sheds light on the many children who make similar journeys. A stop at the Lady Chapel introduced her to Mary, Mother of Jesus and Mother of the Church. ‘There is a place for everyone in the heart of Mary, our Mother,’ the Cardinal told Amal.
At the Sanctuary, he explained that this is ‘where we remember and come to the death and resurrection of Jesus, our source of unbreakable hope.’
Her visits at each stop were accompanied by narrative and prayers read by young people from Ss Michael and Martin parish, Hounslow, as well as music from the Sri Lankan (Tamil) and Syro-Malabar (Keralan) chaplaincy choirs.
Throughout the tour, Amal interacted with the congregation, imitating the actions and movements of a 10-year-old child. Managed by a team of actors and producers, she responded to the liturgy and the surroundings, in turn evoking a reaction from adults and children, who followed her around the Cathedral.
Having turned 10 the previous day, Amal was presented with a ceramic angel made by students at Caritas St Joseph’s Centre and a birthday card made by pupils at St James’ Catholic High School in Barnet. She was also given a blessing by the Cardinal, as she journeys towards Manchester in search of her mother and continuing to raise awareness of the plight of child refugees.
Exiting to the rousing accompaniment of the Zimbabwean choir, she left behind her a congregation moved by her visit, and filled with joy and hope.