Pope Francis meets Spider-Man

Pope Francis has an unusual encounter at his Wednesday audience meeting a Spider-Man impersonator who usually dons the outfit to entertain sick children.

Italian Mattia Villardita, 28, has been performing in pediatric hospitals dressed as the comic book superhero for the past four years.

He shakes hands with the pope — who a few years ago was famously depicted as Superman by an Italian street artist — and gives him a Spider-Man mask as a present.

A man wearing a costume of the Spider-Man fantasy character, who performs in hospitals for sick children, hands a Spider-Man mask to Pope Francis as they meet at the end of the weekly general audience on June 23, 2021 at San Damaso courtyard in The Vatican. (Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

“But the real superheroes are the children who are suffering and their families who are fighting with so much hope,” Villardita tells the Vatican’s media outlet, Vatican News.

Villardita, who has a day job in a terminal shipping company in Italy’s northwestern Liguria region, leads an association for other hospital volunteers who dress up as superheroes.

Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, they continued their work.

“I did more than 1,400 video calls, as I could not go in person,” Villardita tells Vatican News.

A former pediatric patient who underwent several surgeries to treat a congenital disease, Villardita was awarded an honorary knighthood in December by Italian President Sergio Mattarella.

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