Pope Francis met U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in the Vatican on Saturday morning and the two discussed the need for morality in the world economy before the pontiff left for a visit to the Greek island of Lesbos.
Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs told Reuters that the meeting took place in the Vatican guesthouse where the pope lives and where Sanders had spent the night after addressing a Vatican conference on social justice.
The Vatican had said that a meeting between the two was not planned, and Sanders said he did not expect to meet the pope during his trip.
“He is a beautiful man,” Sanders said in an interview with ABC News after the meeting. “I am not a Catholic, but there is a radiance that comes from him.”
Sachs said Sanders, who was accompanied by his wife, spoke with the pope for about five minutes. Sachs, his wife, and Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, head of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, were also in the room.
“I just conveyed to him my admiration for the extraordinary work he is doing raising some of the most important issues facing our planet and the billions of people on the planet and injecting the need for morality in the global economy,” Sanders told ABC.
The Democratic hopeful from Vermont has campaigned on a promise to rein in corporate power and level the economic playing field for working and lower-income Americans whom he says have been left behind, a message echoing that of the pope.
When Sachs, who has advised the United Nations on climate change, was asked if the meeting could be interpreted as political, he said: “This was absolutely not political. This is a senator who for decades has been speaking about the moral economy.”
The meeting came just days before Tuesday’s Democratic party primary in New York, where polls say he is trailing Hillary Clinton. After he won seven of the last eight state contests, a loss in Sanders’ home state would give front-runner Clinton a boost toward the party’s presidential nomination.
Sanders, the Brooklyn-born son of Polish Jewish immigrants, has said the trip was not a pitch for the Catholic vote but a testament to his admiration for the pontiff.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Additional reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Louise Ireland)