Vatican City: Bernie Sanders issued a global call to action at the Vatican today to address "immoral and unsustainable" wealth inequality and poverty, using the high-profile gathering to echo one of the central platforms of his presidential campaign.
The Democratic senator from Vermont cited Pope Francis and St John Paul II repeatedly during his speech to the Vatican conference commemorating the 25th anniversary of a landmark teaching document from John Paul on social and economic justice after the Cold War.
Sanders arrived in Rome hours after wrapping up a debate in New York yesterday night, saying the opportunity to address the Vatican conference was too meaningful to pass up. The roughly 24-hour visit precedes Tuesday's crucial New York primary, which Sanders must do well in to maintain a viable challenge to Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
Pope Francis apologized that he couldn't personally greet participants at the Vatican conference. No meeting with Sanders was expected.
But the trip gave Sanders a moment on the world stage, placing him alongside priests, bishops, academics and two South American presidents.
Sanders has been at a disadvantage during his campaign against Clinton, President Barack Obama's former secretary of state, on issues of foreign policy but he was peppered with questions from academics and ecclesiastics in a manner that might have been afforded a head of state.
Sanders trails Clinton in the Democratic primaries but the trip to the Vatican and his massive rally earlier this week with 27,000 people in New York City may have offered a glimpse of the senator's aim to become a progressive leader, win or lose.
The discussions gave him a chance to expand on his core campaign messages about the need to reform banking regulations, campaign finance rules and higher education.
Asked about inequality in public education, he said it was "beyond disgraceful" and cited challenging conditions in Detroit's school system.
He told the audience that rather than a world economy that looks out for the common good, "we have been left with an economy operated for the top 1 per cent, who get richer and richer as the working class, the young and the poor fall further and further behind."
"We don't choose to politicize the pope," Sanders told attendees, "but his spirit and courage and the fact, if I may say so here, that his words have gone way, way, way beyond the Catholic Church."