NEW YORK — “Little Amal,” a giant puppet that is on a worldwide pilgrimage to raise awareness about the plight of unaccompanied refugee minors, made a stop at St. Patrick’s Cathedral Sept. 18.
The 12-foot puppet of a 10-year-old Syrian refugee girl met migrant families who recently arrived in New York City from Ecuador, Afghanistan and Myanmar; Father Enrique Salvo, the cathedral’s rector; and representatives from Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York.
“For immigrants and refugees around the world, New York is seen as a place of opportunity and promise — but there’s a tension running through U.S. history that suggests not everyone is welcome here,” said playwright/director Amir Nizar Zuabi, the artistic director of this “public art project” called “The Walk” and starring Amal, whose name means “hope.”
“Amal will experience the wonder of New York and also the apprehension of arriving in a strange new place,” Zuabi said in a statement issued in advance of several New York events featuring the puppet. “This is a crucial moment to explore these themes. How will she be welcomed here? Who will do the welcoming?”
The cathedral stop was one of 55 New York events welcoming the puppet over a three-week period that began Sept. 14 and ends Oct. 2 and is titled “Little Amal Walks NYC.”
At John F. Kennedy International Airport, she took her “tentative first steps in NYC,” said a news release. She was welcomed there by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and its Children’s Chorus.
Other events so far have included a parade in Jamaica in the New York borough of Queens; a stop at Grand Central Terminal, followed by gatherings in the center of Manhattan at Times Square and Central Park; and a concert in Brooklyn curated by Syrian-American hip-hop artist and peace activist Omar Offendum.
Little Amal, supported by her puppet handlers, is on a 5,000-mile pilgrimage from the Syrian border through eight countries to the United Kingdom. Th refugee girl is looking for her mother and hoping to start a new life.
Everywhere the puppet goes, hundreds of communities and individual artists welcome her with organized projects, festivals and cultural performances of music, theater and dance. The aim is to tell the stories of those who are often marginalized, feared or pitied and help promote dialogue and collaboration, according to the website.
In September of last year at the Vatican, Little Amal got to offer the Pope Francis her enormous hand during an audience. She was surrounded by hundreds of kids in the Vatican’s San Damaso Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace.
Cardinal Michael Czerny, undersecretary for migrants and refugees at the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, welcomed Little Amal in St. Peter’s Square, together with representatives of the Diocese of Rome, Rome’s Caritas, volunteers and kids.
In his greeting, the cardinal said the Bible says, “Do not forget hospitality; some, practicing it, have welcomed angels without knowing it.”
“It is up to us to welcome and protect (migrants and refugees) as the first essential steps toward promoting their integral human development, which is the kind of future we all want,” he said.
Made by the Handspring Puppet Company, Little Amal was crafted from molded from natural cane and carbon fiber by dozens of artists, and she needs four puppeteers to help her come to life, including animating her eyes and face.
– – –
Editor’s Note: More about Little Amal’s travels can be found online at https://www.walkwithamal.org, on Facebook and Instagram at walkwithamal, and Twitter @walkwithamal.
– – –
Contributing to this story was Carol Glatz in Rome.