VATICAN CITY (AP) — While Pope Francis is usually the star at Vatican gatherings, Spider-Man, or at least an Italian who dresses up as the character, was the attention-grabber among the public lined up in rows during the pontiff’s weekly Wednesday audience.
Matteo Villardita, 28, dons the comic-book and movie super-hero outfit to cheer up hospitalized children, like those at the Vatican’s pediatric hospital, which he planned to visit later on Wednesday.
Sweating under his costume in Rome’s heatwave, Villardita said he asked Pope Francis to pray for the children and their families.
The man told AP TV that he gave Francis a spare mask “as a sign, to tell him that through these eyes I daily see the pain from sick children in hospitals.”
Villardita, with a costumed arm, reached out and touched Francis, who wore no mask against COVID-19, on the back of an arm as he greeted the pontiff.
Said Villardita: “It was fascinating because Pope Francis immediately understood my mission.”
Villardita took selfies with youngsters attending the audience in a Vatican courtyard.
The Vatican described Villardita as “really a good super-hero.” It quoted him as saying that during Italy’s long months of pandemic lockdown, he made more than 1,400 video calls since he wasn’t able to visit in person to help ailing children smile.