Bernie Sanders met privately with Pope Francis on Saturday morning during a trip to the Vatican, fulfilling a longtime wish for the Vermont senator.
The meeting occurred at 6 a.m. at the Pope’s residence, where Sanders is staying. Also present at the five-minute meeting were Sanders’ wife, Jane, Jeffrey Sachs, a Sanders adviser and the Bishop Sanchez Soronda, who invited Sanders to the Vatican.
Sanders thanked the Pope for his leadership on economic justice and climate change.
“We had an opportunity to meet with him this morning,” Sanders said in an interview with the Associated Press shortly after the meeting. “It was a real honor for me, for my wife and I to spend some time with him. I think he is one of the extraordinary figures not only in the world today but in modern world history.”
The Vermont senator, clearly moved by the meeting, thanked the Pope for discussing a “moral economy,” according to Sachs, a campaign adviser and famed development economist. Sanders, who gave a speech at a conference in the Vatican that the Pope was unable to attend, also thanked Francis for his leadership on discussing climate change.
According to Sachs, Pope Francis responded by telling Sanders “how thankful he was of his words and that Sen. Sanders had come and accepted the invitation to the Vatican to come and speak.”
“He was very appreciative of that and apologized again for not being able to be at the session,” Sachs said.
Sanders and his wife took a walk around St. Peter’s Basilica after the meeting. “I think we were all just feeling this radiant presence,” said Sachs. “It was really special it is very special to meet him.”
Sanders has long admired Pope Francis’ advocacy on behalf of the poor and cited the Pope’s teachings. The Vermont senator has aligned his own message of combating global income inequality with the Pope’s.
Pope Francis is careful about creating the impression of nonpartisanship and generally avoids involvement in electoral politics. However, Pope Francis previous did suggest that Donald Trump is “not Christian” because of his campaign message about deporting immigrants.
In a speech at the Vatican on Friday, Sanders called income inequality a “moral” issue. “We have created new idols,” Sanders said, quoting the Pope. “The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.”
As of Friday, it had appeared Sanders would not have an opportunity to meet the Pope. The Pope sent a handwritten note to the Vatican conference Sanders was attending to say he had a scheduling conflict and had to leave for the Greek island of Lesbos early the next morning.
“We need to create a culture which, as Pope Francis reminds us, cannot just be based on the worship of money,” Sanders said in his speech at the Vatican on Friday. “We cannot accept a nation in which billionaires compete as to the size of their super-yachts, while children in America go hungry and veterans sleep out in the streets.”
Sanders took a hiatus from the campaign trail in order to visit the Vatican. He returns for a rally on Sunday in New York, where he has held blockbuster-sized events but his trailing badly in polls to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.