Little Amal puppet Westminster Cathedral
Poverty and Exclusion

Little Amal blesses Cardinal Nichols in Westminster Cathedral

What’s this about?

Little Amal is a very big puppet, making the journey from Gaziantep near the Turkey-Syria border to Manchester, where “she will shine an urgent light on the stories of the millions of young refugees who are displaced – and the many who are forced to risk arduous journeys for the chance at a better life”. That’s an 8,000 mile journey, on foot, through eight countries, crossing the Continent of Europe.

Amal is Arabic for hope. We are told that she has fled her war-torn country and is in search of her mother: “There are tens of thousands of Amals, boys as well as girls, who need to find their way into education and to rebuild their lives”.

“How will you welcome Little Amal?” we are asked. “As each locality responds with cultural events that are meaningful to them, the result builds an artistic odyssey that says something profound about ourselves, about how we live and about what we mean by home.”

Having already met Pope Francis in Rome, yesterday Little Amal arrived in Westminster, and was welcomed by Cardinal Vincent Nichols into his Cathedral, where he mounted the pulpit and blessed her. Or she blessed him.

“Don’t forget about us,” was her message.

Cardinal Nichols doesn’t forget the poor. He sees the task of the Church “to attend first to those who are most vulnerable, and at present that includes rising numbers of children” – those who are hungry, those who are orphaned, those without education, those who have no permanent home.

This is public art on an impressive scale of endurance. It’s one thing to wear a 3.5m frame and work a puppet on a stage for a few hours, but this is an 8,000 mile voyage from Turkey, through Greece, Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium to the UK, which is a journey made by many thousands of refugees, many of whom end up in the Calais Jungle, where the multitude hungers for daily bread and thirsts for the water of life. Christ walks among them, past their stinking toilets to their homespun tents. And on Sundays he sits beside them as they worship in the plastic pews of their cardboard churches, listening to their prayers of hope and cries of misery.

Little Amal CoventryIf the Lord had visited Westminster Cathedral with Little Amal yesterday, he might have asked why they welcome a 3.5m puppet of a child refugee into their sanctified space, but not a real one. He might also have torn down a few portraits and smashed a few marble statues, demanding to know why the homeless shiver in the porch while a puppet gets a theatrical blessing.

He’d say the same in St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey too, of course, but Little Amal didn’t visit those, for some reason. Perhaps she didn’t want to pay the £24 entrance fee.

And Little Amal attended no banquet at Lambeth Palace, or a feast at Windsor Castle. She didn’t go to Downing Street or the Houses of Parliament: she made her appeal directly to the Church of Jesus Christ, which exists for the poor, the weak, the lonely, dispossessed, hurting, grieving and broken. It is for the desperate and oppressed; the destitute and dying. And it is for the children, above all. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded of that.