Graffiti artist Mauro Palotta says Pope Francis is the only world leader who stands on the side of the people.
Graffiti artist Mauro Palotta says Pope Francis is the only world leader who stands on the side of the people. Sylvia Poggoli/NPR
First, he's Time magazine's "Person of the Year." Then, he's Rolling Stone's cover story: "The Times They Are A-Changin'" in the Roman Catholic Church.
Now, he's "SuperPope," the latest incarnation of Pope Francis, who has rapidly become one of the most popular leaders on the planet.
He made his debut recently, on a street named after the Roman comic playwright Plautus. It's just an ordinary street corner like many in Rome — no notable fountain, sculpture or building to gaze at.
On Wednesday morning, however, crowds gathered, aiming their cameras at a new piece of street art.
It's a wall painting showing the Argentine-born pope airborne, his right fist clenched ahead of him, his white cape and pectoral cross fluttering in the breeze, and in his left hand a briefcase with the word valores, Latin for values.
Peeking out of the bag is a scarf in the blue and red stripes of San Lorenzo, the pope's favorite soccer team.
Unlike Clark Kent, however, the white caped crusader is clearly identifiable by his thick spectacles.
The artist's signature is Maupal, short for Mauro Palotta, who lives in the neighborhood, just under the shadow of St. Peter's dome. He says Pope Francis is the only world leader who stands on the side of the people.
"I tried to make him into a divinity by depicting him like Marvel comics superheroes, who essentially are the modern metaphor for Greek mythology," he says. "Our pop icons are today's version of the ancient gods."
The graffiti enchanted passersby.
Rebecca Ruedas Segura, a teenager from Spain, said the wall painting represents Francis perfectly.
"He's very modern. He shows concern for the young and for the poor," she said. "The previous popes didn't really understand people but Francis does because he's humble."
Carlo Romano, an elderly man visiting from the southern city of Taranto, loves it.
"Stupendous, very beautiful!" he exclaimed. "This is a revolutionary pope; he mesmerizes people."
Benni Castellano, a middle-aged Roman, believes that no one at the Vatican would be offended by the graffiti.
"He's a hero, modern hero for the church; he is doing very good things for the church, for the people, for the world," he says. "We people, we need him."
And in fact, the Vatican communications department showed its approval — by tweeting a photo of the pop-art pope.