There's something a little absurd and -- pardon the expression -- comical about scrolling through your news site or social media feed and encountering a photograph of Pope Francis engaged in a conversation with a fully-costumed Spider-Man. That's what happened today, but the Catholic News Agency explains that it wasn't just a goof or some kind of strange protest. Rather, the pope was meeting with a man who appears at children's hospitals while dressed as the wall-crawler. The man, whose secret identity is Mattia Villardita, attended a general audience with the pope, and got some face time with Pope Francis, appearing on the Vatican's official livestream of the event.
He attended the event to meet the Pope and give him his own Spider-Man mask. Apparently, Pope Francis encouraged him to stick around and take lots of selfies with the kids in the audience.
"I try to alleviate some of the suffering of hospital patients," Villardita told CNA. Later, he added, "I'm Catholic and I’m very happy about this experience."
The tradition of people dressing as superheroes and working to cheer up sick kids in the hospital isn't new. In fact, it's such a well-worn tradition that several superhero actors have kept (or at least borrowed) their costumes so that they could go do it themselves. Some of them, like Villardita, get to be so recognizable in costume that they are their own variation on the hero.
According to the Catholic News Agency, "Last year, Villardita was made a Cavalier of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, an honor conferred on him by the Italian president for his actions as an 'everyday hero.'"