It’s the crossover event we didn’t know we needed to see — and nope, it’s not just a meme.
While the Marvel movies may be hinting at a possible multi-verse, none could have prepared us for the meeting of a lifetime: Spider-Man swung by the Vatican on Wednesday to meet face-to-face with Pope Francis himself, during His Holiness’ weekly address to the general audience.
Shaking Pope Francis’ hands and giving him a Spider-Man face mask after the sermon, the web-slinger was even spotted sitting in the VIP section in the Vatican’s San Damaso Courtyard, intently listening to the pontiff’s message.
While the superhero icon has been seen on several surprise occasions, the episode at the Vatican was expected. The man behind the mask, 28-year-old Matteo Villarditta, had been identified in the Cortile di San Damaso, where the papal audiences are being held to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among huge crowds.
As it turns out, Villarditta is a real-life hero too. He dons the mask and the signature Spider-Man suit whenever he visits sick children in hospitals. An initiative that’s been dubbed “Superheroes of the Ward,” Villarditta’s regular hospital sojourn to comfort the sick is driven by his own story of survival, one where he underwent surgeries to beat the congenital malformation he was born with.
Talking to AP TV, Villarditta explained that the spare Spider-Man mask he handed His Holiness is “a sign, to tell him that through these eyes I daily see pain from sick children in hospitals.”
During his general audience, Pope Francis also offered to everyone listening, including “web-slinging superheroes already endowed with special talents,” per CNET. Unsurprisingly, Spider-Man’s presence left the most mark on the audience in attendance and onlookers online.
“It was very exciting because Pope Francis immediately understood my mission,” Villarditta spoke of his encounter with the pope to AP TV.