Back in 2013, a few articles did the rounds of Pope Francis being presented with a Sunderland AFC shirt in Rome with ‘Papa Francesco’ on the back of it.
The head of the Catholic Church happily posed with the football top, who was presented to him by Father Marc Lyden-Smith, the Black Cats’ chaplain.
The name might ring a few bells, and if it does, it’s because he’s the priest who sporadically appears throughout the Netflix show Sunderland Til’ I Die, which recently aired a second season.
Following the success of the TV series, So Foot in France decided to reach out to Father Marc, and asked him about that moment with Pope Francis.
He said: “It was the first time I met him – I’ve met him three times – and I offered him the Sunderland shirt to mark the occasion. The Pope is a real football fan. He used to have a season ticket at San Lorenzo. He doesn’t seem to have a TV, but he asks about the subject and know the Premier League table, that of the Spanish, Italian and of course Argentinian leagues.
“It was nice to briefly speak football with him. He’s definitely a fan: when we chatted, I can’t remember the exact words he used, but he knew Sunderland were doing great at that point (one point after eight games). I told him he needed to pray for us, he smiled and agreed. The next game, we beat Newcastle, our great rivals! It was a great result, thanks to the Pope. If he comes to England one day, I’ll obviously invite him to the stadium”.
A regular at home games due to getting tickets through his role as chaplain, Father Marc usually also brings along ‘one or two disadvantaged people, to change their mind’.
Currently at home, like everyone else, the priest tries to keep his congregations going, just online, where he recently got ‘2000 people to follow the mass via stream’.
He added: “Many players and staff members have written to me to ask about me, and we’re in regular contact to ensure everyone is well. There’s a real brotherhood between us”.
As for what he hopes comes from all this: “Other than pain and sorrow, the Coronavirus has certainly helped each and everyone to recenter their priorities, to weigh up what really matters in life: family and community. We’ll come out of this period with our hearts more open”.