By Fr Benedict Mayaki, SJ
On Friday morning, visitors to St. Peter’s square in Rome were greeted with the spectacle of a 3.5 meter-tall puppet named “little Amal”, which was set up near the “Angels unawares” monument inside Bernini’s colonnade.
Cardinal Michael Czerny, the under-secretary for the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development was on hand to welcome “Little Amal.” Also present was Bishop Benoni Ambarus, auxiliary bishop delegated for Charity, for Migrants and for the pastoral care of Roma and Sinti.
“Little Amal,” made by Handspring Puppet Company, is at the heart of “The Walk” project, an itinerant theater festival, that seeks to draw attention to the plight of millions of displaced refugees.
It is a giant puppet of a 9-year-old Syrian girl named Amal, who ideally represents all displaced children, many of whom are separated from their parents. It embodies the appeal: “Don’t forget about us” – an urgent call to everyone not to turn a blind eye.
“Little Amal” will travel more than 8,000 kilometers, from Gaziantep, near the Turkish-Syrian border, to Manchester, England. This Friday morning stop in Rome is part of efforts to shine a light on migrant and refugee situations across several cities along Little Amal’s itinerary.
"Amal is big and beautiful, and meeting her is a pleasure," says Cardinal Czerny, "but she immediately reminds us that meeting vulnerable migrants, insecure workers and asylum seekers in our midst requires more than just a glance. Each of them, with their own baggage of suffering and dreams, needs and talents, is waiting for us to open our ears, our minds and our hearts as well as our eyes and stretch out our hands."
For the occasion on Friday, the diocese of Rome organized a party in which children from various Roman parishes participate. The young participants took part in a workshop on kite construction organized by ASCS, the Scalabrinian Agency for Development and Cooperation. The scouts of Agesci Roma 51 also constructed a tent.
Hospitality generates life
Welcoming “Little Amal”, Cardinal Czerny, noted that the diocese of Rome chose the powerful symbol of the tent recalling Abraham’s generous invitation to the three strangers at the oaks of Mamre, who turned out to have been sent by God. The strangers – “messengers of unexpected good news, offering a new perspective on the future” - told Abraham that they would have a son, something they had longed for and had thought unattainable.
“This teaches us that offering hospitality to unexpected and unknown guests opens up the possibility of an encounter with God,” the Cardinal said, adding that as this biblical passage teaches us, “hospitality generates life.”
“The act of welcoming transforms people,” the Cardinal pointed out, noting that many communities and families have the experience of taking up the care of “the stranger”. He highlighted that their integration into communities that welcome them is a two-way process, “with reciprocal recognition, rights and duties.” Therefore, the goal must be “the integral human development of newcomers, especially the most vulnerable among them, as well as of those who do the welcoming.”
Towards an ever wider “we”
The Cardinal went on to point out that the 107th World Migrant and Refugee Day, celebrated on 26 September, under the theme “Towards an ever wider ‘we’” identifies a clear horizon for our common journey in the world.
Reiterating Pope Francis’ words, he reminded all that “we are in the same boat” and are called to work together so that “there will be no more walls that separate us, no longer others, but only a single ‘we’, encompassing all of humanity."
“Who knows how many angels are hiding behind the faces of countless migrants and refugees, minors and young people, adults and elderly?” Cardinal Czerny asked.
“It is up to us to welcome and protect them as the first essential steps towards promoting their integral human development, which is the kind of future we all want.”