She didn’t say a word because she can’t. But being 12-foot-tall, Little Amal didn’t have to make noise to attract attention on the sidewalks of midtown and inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral Sept. 18.
Thousands of worshipers leaving Mass and tourists swarmed all over her. Her massive hands reached out to touch children, and with official greeters, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan, she formally offered a handshake. Little Amal’s eyes swayed back and forth, illustrating emotions of wonderment as well as sadness.
“You Are Safe Here” a placard read, held up by a young girl. The sign suggested the point of the event, as Little Amal’s giant feet trudged up the steps of the cathedral. Among the greeters was Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities, who helped to sponsor the event to highlight the plight of migrants throughout the world.
As Little Amal processed down the center aisle of the cathedral, the choir sang “Whatsoever you do to the least of my people,” connecting her plight with the Gospel message of love and support for the most vulnerable.
Little Amal’s trip to St. Patrick’s was part of a New York City tour that will last through Oct. 2. She arrived Sept. 14 and was serenaded by the Metropolitan Opera Company choir at Kennedy Airport. She will visit all the boroughs. Among her stops: Times Square, where she mingled with school children and theatergoers. At St. Patrick’s, an immigrant family helped by Catholic Charities New York and the children of St. Anselm’s School in the South Bronx provided part of the official welcome. Watch the video to see scenes from the event.
Little Amal is of Syrian origin, intended to evoke concern for the children of that war-torn nation. But her theme is universal, intended to evoke prayers and action for all vulnerable migrants.
Her construction is deliberately low-tech, according to her creators, the Handspring Puppet Company, a South African firm. Little Amal grew out of the play called the War Horse. She has since moved beyond the theatre. Comprised of carbon fiber, she comes to life through the work of four puppeteers: one for each arm, another supporting her back, with another inside on stilts who also controls the levers that radiate the emotion in her eyes.
Luz Tavarez, Director of Government and Community Relations for Catholic Charities, said the puppet was representative of the migrant families served by the agency, even if a 12-foot puppet called “Little” is a bit of an oxymoron.
“Once I arrived at the cathedral, I felt a bit of anticipation, understanding that this puppet was representative of the families that I had just greeted – Afghanis and Burmese,” she said.
Little Amal’s procession was quiet yet dramatic.
“There was something about her movements that made me feel like I was walking with her, the deliberate movements that showed her warmth – eyes closed – hand over heart – and genuflecting at the altar. Her slow, humble steps and her eyes widening with wonderment when she entered the cathedral reflected the very reluctance of some of the refugee children that had come to greet her,” said Luz.
New York is just one stop on a world tour. Since July of 2021, Little Amal has been on the road, traversing 5,000 miles over 85 cities and 12 countries.
Luz said the St. Patrick’s appearance made an impact.
“She made not a sound, but we all heard her – the plight of the refugee asking to be welcomed, the fear of not being accepted, and the awe of a world and place where one could express their religion or lack thereof.”