Italy street artist, once a rebel with a brush, gets papal blessing

Rome: Italian street artist Maupal, whose depictions of Pope Francis as a cartoon ‘Super Pope’ have graced buildings around the Vatican for a decade, got an official stamp of approval on Feb 1, when he appeared at a Vatican press conference. Photo: AP

When Italian artist Mauro Pallotta secretly pasted a mural depicting Pope Francis as a caped superhero on a wall near the Vatican a decade ago, Rome police removed it within hours.

Now the Vatican has given Pallotta, who signs his work “Maupal,” a seal of approval, allowing him to illustrate Francis’ message for the season of Lent this year.

Recently, Pallotta sat alongside a cardinal at a news conference, crowning his transition from a surreptitious nocturnal street artist to one now basking in a blessing from the Holy See’s number one man.

“It’s been quite a journey,” said Pallotta, 51.

This year, Lent starts on Ash Wednesday on Feb 14 and ends on Easter on March 31. During the season, Catholics are asked to fast, remember the needy and reflect on mortality.

Pallotta has prepared seven cartoon-like drawings to illustrate themes from Francis’ message for this year.

The first, released on Thursday, shows the pope pushing a wheelbarrow carrying a burlap sack with the word “Faith” on it.

The pope is pushing it though a desert of nails that threaten to puncture the wheel, which the artist said represents faith getting people through a desert of injustice, conflict and material and spiritual snares.

“Humanity has arrived at the threshold of universal fraternity and at levels of scientific, technical, cultural, and juridical development capable of guaranteeing dignity to all, yet gropes about in the darkness of inequality and conflict,” Francis says in his message.

Pallotta’s illustrations will be posted each week during Lent on the website and social media platforms of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development.