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When Spider Man meets Pope Francis

Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

I.Media for Aleteia - published on 06/23/21

I'm not the super hero, says this generous volunteer, it's the sick children I visit.

Dressed as Spider Man, Mattia Villardita was able to shake hands with Pope Francis after the general audience on June 23. In the dramatic disguise, this Italian has a reputation for making sick children smile again.

In the footage showing the general audience this morning, a curious character appears. He is dressed in Spider Man’s trademark red costume and has been placed in the VIP area. His stillness is such that the crowd wonders: Is he real? Under his mask, is Spider Man focused on what the Pope is saying?

Despite appearances, the famous American superhero was not there to film an episode in the Vatican. This Wednesday, Mattia Villardita came in disguise to meet the Pope and speak to him about his very special mission. During his free time, the young Italian goes to hospitals and associations with this costume to “relieve the suffering of sick children,” he explains to I.MEDIA. During these visits, he does not hesitate to encourage them and offer them gifts.

His unique volunteer efforts are not unrelated to his personal history, he explains. At 19, he was hospitalized at the Gaslini Hospital in Genoa with a birth defect that required him to undergo several surgeries. Visiting sick little patients dressed “like his favorite character,” today he feels like he is helping these children and their families. He is particularly well known at the Vatican hospital, the Bambino Gesù, which he has visited on numerous occasions.

“The Pope hugged me tight and gave me compliments,” he said enthusiastically after the meeting which lasted a few minutes after today’s catechesis. Spider Man then posed for photos with the few sick children present at the audience and with others in attendance.

A few months earlier, in January 2021, Mattia Villardita was decorated with the title of Cavallieri by Sergio Mattarella, the president of Italy, in gratitude for his imaginative initiatives and selflessness. This high distinction from the Italian state rewards citizens for their good deeds. “The superhero is not me, it is the children of the hospital,” the young man told Positizie at the time of his award ceremony.

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