Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont traveled to Rome to give a speech at the Vatican, and cited Pope Francis as an inspiration for his views on social and economic justice.
Sanders took a flight to Rome immediately after the April 14 Democratic debate in Brooklyn, where the senator squared off against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, arriving just four days before a New York state primary, which could prove crucial to his campaign. Sanders' speech at the Vatican called for action on income inequality, reports Christian Today.
"I would be kicking myself forever if I did not seize the opportunity," said Sanders in an April 13 interview with The Washington Post, referring to his chance to meet a pope. Sanders says Pope Francis has been an inspiration for raising awareness about global income inequality.
"It's absolutely worth the trip to participate in a conference under a Pope who has led the world in raising consciousness on the most important issues of social, economic and environmental justice," said Sanders.
While some critics have suggested the trip is risky considering its proximity to the vote in New York, other analysts have suggested that a meeting with the pope could be politically beneficial to Sanders' campaign and beyond.
"I think it's a really smart move," said ABC News political analyst Matt Dowd. "Other than two or three events where he's saying the same thing, it gives him a news hook."
Dowd added that the move could gain him new supporters among American Catholics.
Chad C. Pecknold, a professor of Theology at Catholic University specializing in U.S. politics, contends that Sanders' trip to the Vatican could help position him as a global leader and grow his political platform even if he doesn't win in the presidential election.
"Let’s say that he is realistic and that his path to the nomination is extremely slim," said Pecknold. "Then he must say, 'Well, what is my role after this campaign?' It seems clear that he is in a position now to highlight his new profile."
Sanders' campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, said the trip was "beyond politics," adding that the focus would be Sanders' life and work, rather than his political campaign.
Sanders himself acknowledged the political risk of leaving New York so close to the primary, but said that it was worth the chance to potentially meet with Pope Francis.
"I know it’s taking me away from the campaign trail for a day but when I received the invitation ... it was something that I could just simply not refuse," said Sanders at the Vatican on April 15, according to ABC News.