Priest asks for divine help for Sunderland to beat the drop

Keep the faith: Father Marc Lyden-Smith is encouraging Sunderland Football Club fans to come to St Mary's RC Church and light a candle to support their team.
Keep the faith: Father Marc Lyden-Smith is encouraging Sunderland Football Club fans to come to St Mary's RC Church and light a candle to support their team.
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CITY priest Father Marc Lyden-Smith is calling on Black Cats fans to call in on the Good Lord and boost Sunderland’s bid to beat the drop.

The Catholic priest, who serves St Mary’s Church, in Bridge Street in the city centre, says recent weeks have seen an influx of worshippers as they pray for their team to stay in the Premier League.

Most people in the city are right behind the team because I think they realise it’s better for the area that we have a Premier League club, rather than a Championship one

Father Marc Lyden-Smith, of St Mary’s Church in Sunderland city centre

And today, the massive SAFC fan called on fellow supporters to drop in at the church on the remaining four match days this season.

Fr Marc was famously pictured giving a Sunderland shirt to Pope Francis on a trip to the Vatican in October 2013.

The gift had the desired effect as Sunderland put a six-game losing streak to an end by beating rivals Newcastle United just days later.

“We’ve got a big sign which we put out in front of the church on match days to encourage people to come in and light a candle for the team,” said Fr Marc, who is also SAFC club chaplain.

“I hold a service at the training ground each week for some of the players who come for prayers as well.

“Most people in the city are right behind the team because I think they realise it’s better for the area that we have a Premier League club, rather than a Championship one.”

The Echo’s #HawayTheLads campaign is hoping to give every bit of support to the team in its battle to avoid relegation. Following last weekend’s vital 2-1 win over Southampton at the Stadium of Light, Dick Advocaat’s men travel to Merseyside to face Everton tomorrow in a 12.45pm kick off.

Although the Black Cats remain in 18th position, only two point separate five teams going into the final few weeks of the season.

After tomorrow’s crucial match, they welcome Leicester City to Wearside on Saturday, May 16, before daunting trips to Arsenal and champions Chelsea round off the campaign.

Despite the nerve-shredding games to come, Fr Marc, previously at St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral before crossing the Tyne-Wear divide, says he is confident his team will escape from danger.

“I’m quite optimistic actually,” he said. “There’s a real buzz around the training ground and the past couple of results have given everyone a lift.

“That’s why I’m confident that despite stiff competition to come, they will save themselves and get Premier League football next season.

“The new manager has definitely made an impact and the players and staff have responded well to him.

“It’s a challenging time for everyone but they can get through it and keep Sunderland up.”