1:20pm

Wed January 29, 2014
Parallels

On A Roman Street, Graffiti Celebrates 'SuperPope'

Originally published on Thu January 30, 2014 9:00 am

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.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

First, he's Time Magazine's Person of the Year. Then he's Rolling Stone's cover story on "The Times they are A-Changin'" in the Catholic Church. And now, he is super-pope. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports on the latest incarnation of one of the most popular leaders on the planet.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI BYLINE: The street is named after the Roman comic playwright Plautus. But it's just an ordinary street corner like many in Rome - no notable fountain, sculpture or building to gaze at. This 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 brief-case with the words valores - Latin for values.

Peeking out of the bag, 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 signed himself Maupal. That's short for Mauro Palotta, who lives in the hood, 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.

MAURO PALOTTA: (Through translator) I tried to make him into a divinity by depicting him like Marvel comics super heroes, who essentially are the modern metaphor for Greek mythology. Our pop icons are today's version of the ancient gods.

BYLINE: Passersby were enchanted by the graffiti. Rebecca Ruedas Segura, a teenager from Spain, said the wall painting represents Francis perfectly.

REBECCA RUEDAS: (Through translator) He's very modern. He shows concern for the young and for the poor. The previous popes didn't really understand people. But Francis does because he's humble.

BYLINE: Carlo Romano, an elderly man visiting from the southern city of Taranto, loves it.

CARLO ROMANO: (Through translator) Stupendous, very beautiful. This is a revolutionary pope. He mesmerizes people.

BYLINE: Benni Castellano, a middle-aged Roman, is convinced no one at the Vatican could be offended by the graffiti.

BENNI CASTELLANO: He is a hero, modern hero for the church. He is doing very, very good things for the church, for the people, for the world. We need him.

BYLINE: And, in fact, the Vatican communications department showed its approval by tweeting a photo of the pop-art pope.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.