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The pope just met Spider-Man ... or did Spider-Man just meet the pope?

The iconic figures met at the Vatican today

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Pope Francis meets Spider-Man at the Vatican.

Pope Francis meets Spider-Man, who presents him with his mask, at the end of his weekly general audience with a limited number of faithful in the San Damaso Courtyard at the Vatican, Wednesday, June 23, 2021.

Andrew Medichini, Associated Press

Spider-Man swung by the Vatican Wednesday to meet Pope Francis and give him a custom-made Spider-Man mask. The Marvel superhero character made a surprise appearance at the pope’s weekly address, says Fox News.

Why was Spider-Man at the Vatican?

In reality, the real superhero may be the man behind the mask: Mattia Villardita.

Villardita came to see the pope at the Vatican before visiting a local children’s hospital. He asked the pope to pray for the sick children and their families, reports The Associated Press.

  • According to Villardita per the AP, “Pope Francis immediately understood my mission.”

During the visit, the pope encouraged Villardita to take selfies with the children, says Fox News.

When asked why he came dressed as Spider-Man, Villardita replied, “It’s my favorite character from when I was a kid,” per Fox News.

What is ‘Superheroes of the Ward’?

For the last four years, Villardita has been dressing up as comic book characters and superheroes to encourage and cheer up children in the hospital. For the last two years, he’s done this through an initiative called “Superheroes of the Ward,” reports Fox News. Villardita has visited pediatric hospitals all across Italy.

  • Now 28 years old, Villardita was a pediatric patient himself, having been born with congenital malformation and undergoing numerous surgeries for the first 19 years of his life, says Fox News. His experience led him to begin volunteering in this unique way.

During COVID-19 lockdowns this past year, Villardita organized video calls for sick children to talk with their favorite superhero. He organized more than 1,400 video calls before returning to in-person visits in December, AP reports.

“The real superheroes are the children who are suffering and their families who are fighting with so much hope,” said Villardita per France 24.