Updated: June 24, 2021 04:50 AM GMT
Pope Francis shakes hand with a man wearing a costume of the Spider-Man fantasy character who performs in hospitals for sick children on June 23 at the Vatican. (Photo: AFP)
Pope Francis had an unusual encounter at his weekly general audience when he met 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 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 on June 23.
"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 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 pediatric patient who underwent several surgeries to treat a congenital disease, Villardita was awarded an honorary knighthood in December by Italian President Sergio Mattarella.
….as we enter the last months of 2021, we are asking readers like you to help us keep UCA News free.
For the last 40 years, UCA News has remained the most trusted and independent Catholic news and information service from Asia. Every week, we publish nearly 100 news reports, feature stories, commentaries, podcasts and video broadcasts that are exclusive and in-depth, and developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes.
Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to – South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.
And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters who cover 23 countries in south, southeast, and east Asia. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don’t have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.
With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.