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Vatican City

Pope Francis meets Italy's modest Spider-Man

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

AFP, Rome

AFP, Rome

Published: June 24, 2021 04:45 AM GMT

Updated: June 24, 2021 04:50 AM GMT

Pope Francis meets Italy's modest Spider-Man

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.

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