Hidden away in south-west Florida is the extraordinary Catholic town of Ave Maria. Built on the outskirts of the city of Naples, the college town has a towering Oratory church at its centre. A 30ft sculpture of the Annunciation sits above its majestic doors. The town is a miniature Catholic paradise, with a Catholic university and local shops selling icons and devotional books.

Ave Maria owes its grandeur to a rather humble substance: pizza. The community’s founder, Tom Monaghan, is the former CEO of Domino’s Pizza, a chain which he sold in 2004, investing the profits in this singular project.

Monaghan is not the only famous Catholic with a passion for pizza. In recent months it has become clear that Pope Francis himself is a bit of a pizza addict. Even the satirists have noticed his keen appetite for the foodstuff. “Along with ordering pies for delivery to the Popemobile, Pope Francis has started eating pizza for every meal … and has made it ‘illegal’ to give up pizza for Lent,” claimed the comedy site Above Average.

Francis first hinted at his fondness for pizza last year, in an interview with the Mexican television station Televista. Asked if there was anything he didn’t like about being Pope, he said: “The only thing I would like is to go out one day, without being recognised, and go to a pizzeria for a pizza.”

Then, during a trip to the original Naples, a pizzeria owner took pity on him and decided to present him with a personalised pizza as Francis cruised through the crowds in his Popemobile. The Pope looked delighted to receive it.

This summer the Pope has been busy sharing his love of pizza. In August he treated 10 homeless people in Rome to a trip to the beach, topped off by a visit to a pizzeria. And after the canonisation of Mother Teresa this month, he invited a further 1,500 homeless for a slap-up pizza lunch at the Vatican.

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