Only four days to go before the critical New York primary, and Bernie Sanders is off to Vatican City to speak at a conference on economy, environment, and social justice. His trip has caused many observers to scratch their heads wondering what makes the Vermont senator abandon the campaign trial at such a crucial juncture.
According to CNN, Sen. Sanders landed in Rome Friday morning and reached the Vatican in an escorted motorcade. He began his 15-minute speech at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences with an invocation of Pope Francis, emphasizing their agreement on economic justice.
“There are few places in modern thought that rival the depth and insight of the Church’s moral teachings on the market economy.”
Here he launched one of his most powerful indictments of wealth inequality, Wall Street, and influence of corporate money on politics, saying that the greatest challenge facing the world was a moral imperative to redirect “our efforts and vision to the common good.”
“In the year 2016, the top one percent of the people on this planet own more wealth than the bottom 99 percent, while the wealthiest 60 people — 60 people — own more than the bottom half: three and a half billion people.”
The septuagenarian Democrat, who arrived in Rome just hours after debating Hillary Clinton in Brooklyn, spoke shortly after Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa, and sat next to Bolivia’s socialist president Evo Morales — who’s set to speak on Saturday — at the conference.
Sanders’ wish to meet Pope Francis, however, was not realized, as on Friday morning, the pontiff sent a handwritten note to the conference attendees telling his inability to attend because he is leaving for a trip to the Greek island of Lesbos, which has lately become a focal point of the Syrian refugee crisis, early Saturday morning.
Although the Bernie campaign insists that his trip is not a political maneuver, others see such a motive at play. Michael Wear, a veteran Democratic strategist, believes the timing of the tour in terms of the states that are coming up could not be more perfect. “It’s late in the game, but Pennsylvania and Maryland are huge white, working-class Catholic states,” he said, referring to Sanders’ delegate gap with Clinton.
“The trip is well worth the time. At this stage of the process, Sanders is not going to win this thing without some sort of major shakeup.”
“A picture with the pope would be worth a thousand words, but I’m not sure it’s worth a thousand votes.”
Lorenza Giammelli, an Italian-American Bernie supporter from Syracuse and a practicing Catholic, told CNN that he thinks Bernie’s decision to visit Vatican City is a “smart move.”
“I think it’s good for the Pope, it’s good for (Sanders), too.
Chad C. Pecknold, a theology professor at Catholic University, told the New York Times he believed the senator was eyeing past the election and angling to start a foundation like the Clinton Global Initiative.
“It’s reasonable to assume that the Sanders campaign is aware that their chances of being the Democratic nominee are slim… He is looking ahead to the future for what sort of influence he is going to have beyond the election, and he knows his signature issue is economic justice.”
[Photo by Andrew Medichini/AP Images]