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Meeting of minds

Apr 17,2016 - Last updated at Apr 17,2016

Pope Francis’ brief meeting with US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders Saturday at the Vatican may have been short in time but was long in symbolism and meaning.

Sanders was at the Vatican to attend a conference at the Pontifical Academy of Social Justice, discussing economy and social justice, and stayed at the same guest house where the Pope lives.

In a final speech to the synod, the Pope endorsed Sanders for president of the US, saying: “I see in Senator Bernard Sanders a man of great integrity and moral conviction, who understands these principles and genuinely wants what’s best for all people.”

Conservative Catholics, not happy with the pontiff’s outspoken ideas on social issues and American politics, as well as some US journalists, are critical of the Pope’s ideas and what they see as interference in politics.

“The Pope needs to stick to religion and stay the hell out of politics,” said Cardinal Justin Francis Rigali.

His Holiness, however, dismissed the idea that his brief encounter with Sanders was politically motivated or is tantamount to meddling in US politics.

“When I came down, I greeted him, I shook his hand and nothing more. This is called good manners and it is not getting involved in politics.”

Politics or not, the meeting between the Pope and the US Democratic presidential candidate sends the message that issues like economic and social justice, which Sanders has been highlighting during his campaign, are a source of concern for the pontiff as well.

“I told him that I was incredibly appreciative of the incredible role that he is playing in this planet in discussing issues about the need for an economy based on morality, not greed,” Sanders said of Pope Francis.

The pontiff broke new ground at the Vatican when he began to address socioeconomic issues, which he often referred to as the root of social evil, as well as climate change and income inequality.

Sanders also broke new ground in US presidential elections, and politics in general, when he made social justice his main campaign issue and when he adopted a balanced position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Vatican’s endorsement might help Sanders’ election campaign, but the extent is difficult to gauge.

The Catholic constituency in the US is large, but not large enough to make a big difference in the upcoming primary elections in New York or in the November US presidential elections.

But liberal and progressive Americans, and many young people, are drawn to Sanders’ stand on many issues, just like they appreciate the Pope’s bringing social and environmental issues to the forefront of the Catholic Church.

As one young New Yorker said, “Pope Francis has made it cool to be a Christian again.”


It might be that it will be cool to elect a president that does not shy away from discussing inequality and who promises to strive to address this and many other problems plaguing the American society.

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