Pope Francis welcomed a giant puppet symbolizing unaccompanied refugee children to the Vatican on Friday.
The 11-foot-tall puppet, called Little Amal, arrived in St. Peter’s Square on the morning of Sept. 10 on a journey from Gaziantep, near the border between Turkey and Syria, to Manchester, England.
The puppet, blinking and waving its arms, was greeted by the Vatican Cardinal Michael Czerny beside the bronze sculpture “Angels Unawares,” which depicts migrants huddled together on a raft and was unveiled in the square in 2019.
Cardinal Czerny, undersecretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, was joined by Bishop Benoni Ambăruş, a Romania-born auxiliary bishop of Rome diocese responsible for the pastoral care of migrants.
“Amal is big and beautiful, and meeting her is a pleasure,” Cardinal Czerny told Vatican News. “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.”
The puppet, whose journey is known as “The Walk,” proceeded to the San Damaso Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, where it encountered the pope and brightly dressed children.
The children are participants in an event known as the “March of Welcome,” marking the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which falls this year on Sept. 26.
In May, Pope Francis released his 2021 message marking the annual commemoration, which Pope Pius X instituted in 1914.
Photographs issued by the Vatican showed the pope waving to the children, greeting them individually, and giving them his blessing.
“The pope invited them to play and he spent some time in the courtyard watching them and asking them to pray for him too,” reported Vatican News, which said that the event also included a kite-building workshop.
The welfare of migrants and refugees has been one of Pope Francis’ top priorities since his election in 2013. His first trip outside Rome as pope, in July of that year, was to Italy’s migrant island of Lampedusa.
Earlier this week, the pope met with recent arrivals from Afghanistan after a documentary about his life and teaching was screened at the Vatican.
Evgeny Afineevsky, the film’s director, told the online news site Deadline: “When the movie finished [the pope] was downstairs waiting for them. He wanted to meet everybody and greet everybody…”
“He is a human being who cherishes being close to the people, cherishes the moment he can spread love, joy in their lives — not easy lives. And he always remembers that he can be in their place [as a refugee]. He said it many, many times: ‘It can be you or me.’”
He added: “He’s somebody who is trying to bring light to their plight. He’s trying to bring the spotlight of the media towards them and to show to the world how important it is to help them, integrate them.”
After his Sunday Angelus on Sept. 5, Pope Francis urged countries to offer refuge to people fleeing Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover and withdrawal of US and other forces.
“In these troubled times that see Afghans seeking refuge, I pray for the most vulnerable among them. I pray that many countries will welcome and protect those seeking a new life. I pray also for the internally displaced persons and that they may receive assistance and the necessary protection,” the pope said.
“May young Afghans receive education, an essential good for human development. And may all Afghans, whether at home, in transit, or in host countries, live with dignity, in peace and fraternity with their neighbors.”
“The Walk” is a collaboration between the theater group Good Chance, founded in a refugee camp in Calais, France, in 2015, and the South African Handspring Puppet Company, which created the puppets for the acclaimed play “War Horse.”
Little Amal, made from cane and carbon fiber and operated by four puppeteers, is being taken on an almost 5,000-mile journey from Turkey to the UK, via Greece, Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, and Belgium to raise awareness of the plight of young refugees.
Amal, a nine-year-old Syrian refugee child, first featured as a character in Good Chance’s play “The Jungle,” representing the hundreds of unaccompanied minors in the Calais camp.