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Lise Hand: Enda will give his ticket to Pope if he guarantees glory for beloved Mayo

ENDA Kenny is a Mayoman obsessed. He may have been standing in the gracious Piazza Colonna, flanked on one side by the remarkable obelisk of Marcus Aurelius, and on the other by the Palazzo Chigi, the residence of the Italian prime minister, but all he could see was a big shiny cup called Sam.

"Sunshine before the big match," he beamed yesterday as he emerged from the palazzo following an hour-long meeting with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti.

He was apparently oblivious to the geographical reality that he was quite some distance from the hallowed turf of Croker. But more than once in the past week the Taoiseach has opened his mouth, only for the M-word to tumble out.

That's Mayo -- not Mario nor Monti.

And all week he has declared that his beloved county may even have God on its side. Thanks to a bit of serendipitous timing Enda will be meeting Pope Benedict today, almost exactly 24 hours before the curtain rises on the Donegal-Mayo football final.

And several times this week he has declared his intention to request a spot of divine intervention by His Holiness.

And again yesterday he was a Mayoman on a mission. "I have my own ticket for the All-Ireland, I'm prepared to give it to him if he can guarantee that we will win," he laughed.

But at the same time, this running gag has conveniently allowed him to deflect attention away from the fact that today's papal audience in Castel Gandolfo isn't a private meeting. Enda will be one among a delegation of European politicians.

And it does come in the wake of his unprecedented critique of the Vatican in July last year, when he reacted to the release of the Cloyne Report into clerical sex abuse. It caused serious ripples across the Holy See, along with a chilly response refuting some of the Taoiseach's remarks.

But 14 months on, now that he's on the Pope's turf, was Enda having second thoughts about his speech?

It was clear that he wasn't prepared to offer any mea culpa, and was standing firmly and unequivocally over everything he had uttered in his address. "I think the matter that I raised in the Dail in regard to the Catholic Church has been beneficial in the sense that it's brought about a new sense of reality," he said.

"And from my dealings with the church authorities since then, there's been a realism and understanding that the scars of the past had to be dealt with, and dealt with fully, and that we put in place foundations for the future that demonstrate the sense of values that we have for our country and for our people," he said.

He added he was "happy to meet with Pope Benedict and I look forward to that brief meeting in Castel Gandolfo".

However, Enda won't be flinging invitations to visit around Castel Gandolfo like confetti, as strict protocols are involved. "That's a matter for the church authorities to invite him to Ireland. He will be very welcome to come," he confirmed.

This is Enda's second visit to Rome this year, as he also met with prime minister Monti last February. However, the two men have known each other for years -- ever since Enda was trade minister in the 90s and Mario was an EU internal-trade commissioner.

And so, Enda was given the Full Monti treatment upon arrival -- red carpet, brass band and a guard-of-honour sporting unseasonably warm furry hats.

So now for this momentous day when Kenny meets Benny.

And perhaps while he's putting in a good word for Mayo, Enda could ask the Pope to have a chat with the patron saint of lost stuff, St Anthony. Just in case he can give us a steer as to where in the blazes Anglo left all our money.

Irish Independent