Pope Francis pictured with Sunderland shirt ahead of derby

Pope Francis with the Sunderland shirt Pope Francis was presented with the Sunderland shirt in Rome

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Troubled Sunderland may have been anything but infallible this season, but one man appears to be keeping the faith.

Pope Francis has been given a personalised Black Cats shirt ahead of this weekend's derby clash with arch-rivals Newcastle United.

The shirt was presented to him by Father Marc Lyden-Smith, who is Sunderland Football Club's chaplain.

He is in Rome with Bishop Seamus Cunningham and a group of pilgrims.

'A miracle'

Fr Lyden-Smith said: "We have 60 pilgrims from the North East in Rome at the moment visiting churches and shrines. As part of the pilgrimage we took part in the papal audience on Wednesday morning.

"As chaplain of Sunderland Football Club, they asked if I could present him with a shirt that had his name on the back - Papa Francesco.

"It was a bit of a miracle really. There were 120,000 people gathered in the square. We managed to get tickets up at the front and the pope was guided towards us.

"Some people from the North East managed to shake his hand and then I asked if he would accept the shirt and he took it and waved it in the air to cheers."

Asked if the pope would be supporting the team against fierce rivals Newcastle United at Sunderland's Stadium of Light on Sunday, he said: "He is very diplomatic and wouldn't say that.

"He's a keen football fan - he was a season ticket holder before he was elected as pope."

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