Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders traveled to the Vatican to hold a conference on social, economic and environmental issues. The U.S. Senator from Vermont told CNN he had the chance to meet with Pope Francis on Saturday during his visit to the Holy See.
Sanders said his “extraordinary” meeting with Francis had happened in a hallway at the Casa Santa Marta before the Pope left for Greece to visit refugees. The senator spent the night at that Vatican residence with his wife, as he told CNN.
He said there were no photos of the encounter but affirmed he enjoyed the opportunity to chat with Pope Francis, formerly known as Argentine Cardinal Jose Mario Bergoglio. Sanders told reporters he would rather keep what the Pope said to himself.
“I just wanted to let him know how appreciative I was and the extraordinary role he’s playing throughout the world in raising consciousness about massive levels of income and wealth inequality,” the Democratic presidential candidate said.
Jeffrey Sachs, the Columbia professor who attended the meeting, said Sanders was told that Francis wanted to meet the senator at 6 a.m. before his trip to Lesbos, the Greek island that has become a focus of attention of the Syrian refugee crisis.
After his five-hour visit to Greece, Francis returned Rome on his aircraft with three rescued families of refugees from Syria, according to a statement issued by the Vatican.
Sanders visited the Vatican to spread his message of economic justice
The Sanders campaign declared the trip had no political motivations and that the conference was rather aimed at spreading the senator’s message of economic inequality, a topic he has been largely addressing during his campaign trail in the United States.
The trip began on Friday morning, when Sanders traveled to the Vatican in a motorcade along with Jane, his wife, four children and a few grandchildren, according to CNN. The senator was greeted by a group of supporters at the Perugino Gate of Vatican City, where he saw signs reading “Rome is berning.”
Sanders gave a speech to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. Francis sent a note to conference attendees explaining that he would not be there because he was going to Greece early Saturday morning. During his 15-minute talk, Sanders spoke about wealth being enjoyed by too few while the middle class is disappearing, remarking his agreement with Francis on moral teachings regarding the market economy and economic justice.
In spite of the disagreements on topics such as abortion and LGBT rights, the social Jewish senator has shown deep admiration towards the leader of the Catholic Church, especially when it comes to the need to act against the idolatry of money and in favor of the disadvantaged.