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Italian artist Mauro Pallotta poses in front of his graffiti depicting Pope Francis as Superman and holding a bag with a writing which reads: "Values" at the Borgo Pio district near St. Peter's Square in Rome, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, File)

ROME (AP) — Street artist Maupal, whose cartoon-like depictions of Pope Francis as a “Super Pope” have graced buildings around the Vatican for a decade, got an official stamp of approval on Thursday when he appeared at a Vatican news conference.

Maupal, in life Mauro Pallotta, designed a series of posters to illustrate Francis’ 2024 Lenten message, which this year emphasizes the need for the faithful to let go of hopelessness and bondage to find a path of inner freedom. The posters will be released weekly over the course of this Lenten season leading up to Easter.

Sitting next to one of Francis’ closest advisers, Cardinal Michael Czerny, Maupal said he never sought out official recognition from the Vatican but was “proud and honored” to have been asked to depict Francis’ message in art.

“Representing Christian values via art has always been one of the greatest goals of painting and sculpture,” Maupal told reporters. “I have tried to synthesize the profound concepts expressed by the Holy Father through pictorial language in a simple, easily readable style.”

“Representing Christian values via art has always been one of the greatest goals of painting and sculpture,” Maupal told reporters.

In the first poster released on Thursday, Francis is shown walking through a desert field of upturned nails, hauling a wheel barrel with a heavy sack and the word “Faith” written on the sack. “Through the desert, God leads us to freedom,” reads the text, taken from the title of the pope’s message.

Maupal gained broad attention a year after Francis was elected in 2013, with the first graffiti art of the pope as a flying, white caped “Super Pope,” — a spinoff on Hollywood’s Superman — clutching his black satchel with the word “Values” on it. The graffiti appeared on buildings of the Borgo Pio neighborhood near the Vatican.

Initially, Rome’s “decorum” police scrubbed the images away.

But they continued to appear, each more embracing of Francis’ message than the last.

Over time, Maupal became somewhat part of the establishment as far as the Vatican was concerned.

In one, Francis is shown on a ladder playing a game of tic tac toe, using peace signs for the zeroes, as a Swiss Guard peers around the corner to keep watch. In another, Francis is shown dangling from a harness like a window-washer, trying to clean the sky of pollution.

Over time, Maupal became somewhat part of the establishment as far as the Vatican was concerned. In 2022, Francis met with him, and that same year Maupal started collaborating with the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. On Thursday, in addition to his place on the podium, the Vatican released a short biographic note about his art and his work in schools and prisons.

Asked about his evolution, Maupal said he never considered himself a “rebel artist,” or the type of graffiti artist who remains anonymous because his artwork is, legally speaking, defacing a public space. Each mural is signed “Maupal,” but the artist has never hidden his identity.

“If I do something on the street, I recognize that it’s an invasion, because the street belongs to everyone,” he said. “So convinced of this, from my very first work, everyone knew my first name and my last name.”

“Without seeking out officialness, I’ve followed my path, and now I find myself here,” he said.

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