Pope Francis meets Spider-Man at weekly audience

Rome (AFP) –


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.

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.