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'Superpope' Francis: Street art near Vatican likens pontiff to cartoon hero

Tiziana Fabi / AFP - Getty Images

A nun takes a picture of the street art showing Pope Francis as Superman.

ROME -- Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it’s “Superpope.”

For billions of Catholics, Pope Francis is already emerging as a hero thanks to his revitalized teaching of the church's message and his tough stance on internal greed and corruption. Now, a large graffiti painting has appeared near the Vatican depicting him in the classic Superman pose.

Dressed in a cape-like white cassock, with his right first clenched in front of him, the pontiff is shown carrying a briefcase in his other hand with the word “Valores” - Spanish for "values" - written on the side.  

A scarf bearing Superman’s blue and red colors, which also happen to be those of the pope’s favorite Argentine soccer club San Lorenzo, emerges from the briefcase.

Unlike the real Superman, who disguises himself as bespectacled alter-ego Clark Kent, Pope Francis is clearly identifiable on the artwork, which is signed “Maupal 2014” - the name of artist, Mauro Pallotta.

"One night I was reading a comic book, and an image of the pope came up on the television," explained Pallotta. "That's when I struck me. The pope has superpowers, too: humility and empathy." 

The Vatican seemed pleased with the tribute, posting a picture of the artwork on its Twitter feed.

Pope Francis' determination to bring the 1.2 billion-member Catholic Church closer to the world's poor is not quite the same as Superman’s "never-ending battle" for truth and justice, but the pontiff's message has resonated with a wider audience.

Earlier this week, he joined the ranks of Rock‘n’Roll greats by appearing on the front cover Rolling Stone magazine with the headline "The times they are a-changin.'"

He was also nominated as “Person of the year” by Time magazine and he has featured as a cartoon hero in a comic book for children.

Reuters contributed to this report.