PICS | Pope Francis meets Spider-Man

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Pope Francis greets Mattia Villardita, a young man in the Spider-Man costume.
Pope Francis greets Mattia Villardita, a young man in the Spider-Man costume.
Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Pope Francis had 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 paediatric hospitals dressed as the comic book superhero for the past four years.

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

"But the real superheroes are the children who are suffering and their families who are fighting with so much hope," Villardita told the Vatican's media outlet, Vatican News.

Pope Francis meets Spider-Man, who presents him wi
Pope Francis meets Spider-Man, who presents him with his mask, at the end of his weekly general audience with a limited number of faithful in the San Damaso Courtyard at the Vatican, Wednesday. The masked man works with sick children in hospitals.
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - JUNE 23: Pope Francis rece
Pope Francis receives a Spiderman mask as a gift from Mattia Villardita, a young man in the Spider-Man costume.
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - JUNE 23: Mattia Villardita
Mattia Villardita, a young man in the Spider-Man costume, who makes children smile in the pediatric wards of hospitals, attends Pope Francis' general audience at the courtyard of San Damaso.

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 told Vatican News.

A former paediatric 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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