Around 1,000 people gathered in Westminster Cathedral to welcome Little Amal, the 3.5 metre-tall puppet of a 10-year old unaccompanied Syrian refugee girl, on 25 October 2021.
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 among us are invisible:
“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, Cardinal Nichols said: “Many before you have to this Cathedral from overseas and been welcomed. They have settled here and enriched the Church… 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 8,000 km 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.
Bishop Paul McAleenan, the Bishops’ Conference Lead Bishop for Migrants and Refugees, saw the event as affirmation of the Church’s message of welcome:
“It’s a great privilege for us to welcome Amal. Pope Francis speaks so eloquently and enthusiastically about the importance of welcoming refugees, and I think it’s a sign that people in this country have heard that message and are taking it on board.
“In the Cathedral today there was a sense of joy. Those who come among us do not come to take, they come to bring, to give. It’s a message that runs right through Fratelli Tutti. We have so much to learn from refugees – those who bring their culture to this country. They do not undermine our culture in any way, they enhance it and build upon what we have, and allow us to enjoy the fruits of their own cultures.”