Pope Francis shared the limelight with a member of the public dressed as Spider-Man during a gathering at the Vatican on Wednesday.
Twenty-eight-year-old Matteo Villardita – who dons the comic-book and movie superhero outfit to cheer up children he visits in hospital – was among the public lined up in rows during the pontiff’s weekly audience.
Sweating under his costume in Rome’s heatwave, Mr Villardita said he asked Francis to pray for the children and their families.
He told AP TV that he gave Francis a spare mask, “as a sign, to tell him that through these eyes I daily see pain from sick children in hospitals”.
Mr Villardita reached out and touched Francis, who was not wearing a face mask, on the back off his arm as he greeted the pontiff.
“It was very exciting because Pope Francis immediately understood my mission,” he said.
Mr Villardita took selfies with youngsters attending the audience in a Vatican courtyard.
The Vatican described Mr Villardita as “really a good superhero” and quoted him as saying that during Italy’s long months of pandemic lockdown he had made more than 1,400 videocalls, since he was not able to visit in person, to help ailing children smile.
Mr Villardita planned to visit the Vatican’s paediatric hospital later on Wednesday.