On Friday, Bernie Sanders, his family, campaign staff, members of the press, and his Secret Service detail flew on a chartered flight from New York City to Rome. Since the media began reporting on the trip, social media has exploded with complaints from those who oppose Bernie Sanders, criticizing everything from his in-flight meal choices to the carbon footprint of his flight, while questioning his affinity for Pope Francis. Even though the media has focused on finding negative aspects, the inspirational truth about Bernie Sanders’ visit to the Vatican deserves the real spotlight.
The purpose of Bernie Sanders’ trip was to attend a conference hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, which Pope John Paul II created in 1994. The purpose of the academy, according to its website, is “promoting the study and progress of the social sciences, primarily economics, sociology, law and political science.”
According to a statement released by the academy, the goal of the conference attended by Bernie Sanders, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the publishing of the Centesimus Annus, was “to examine and discuss changes in politics, economics, and culture in the world.” In attendance were academics from all around the world, the presidents of Bolivia and Ecuador, and religious leaders.
Bernie Sanders’ speech, scheduled for 4 p.m. local time, according to the conference’s program, was titled “The Urgency of a Moral Economy: Reflections on the 25th Anniversary of Centesimus Annus.” The transcript of Sanders’ speech, published by TIME reads much like the transcripts of other speeches Bernie Sanders has given throughout his political career but with a sprinkling of religious references. When drawing attention to economic inequality, Sanders quoted Pope Leo XIII.
“…economic issues and challenges…continue to haunt us today, such as what [Pope Leo XIII] called ‘the enormous wealth of a few as opposed to the poverty of the many.’ And let us be clear. That situation is worse today. In the year 2016, the top 1 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 – 3 1/2 billion people. At a time when so few have so much, and so many have so little, we must reject the foundations of this contemporary economy as immoral and unsustainable.”
Bernie Sanders went on to speak of the need for a minimum wage increase, expanded educational opportunities, and to extol the role trade unions play in protecting workers. Sanders spoke harshly of Wall Street, maligned environmental destruction, and pointed fingers at politicians for the deregulation of the banks, which he blames for the worldwide economic collapse of 2008. Sanders also spoke of the need for campaign finance reform due to the unfair influence of corporate interests on political decisions and quoted Pope Francis when speaking of the dangers presented by the love of money evident in first-world countries.
“Man is not in charge today, money is in charge, money rules. We have created new idols. 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.”
Bernie Sanders did not focus solely on the United States’ economic peers. Sanders went on to discuss the dangers currently faced by the world’s developing countries.
“They suffer not only from the boom-bust cycles on Wall Street, but from a world economy that puts profits over pollution, oil companies over climate safety, and arms trade over peace.”
However, Bernie Sanders’ speech was not all about the negative aspects of today’s society. In his conclusion, Sanders offered hope not only to the conference’s other attendees but also to all those who read or hear his speech. Sanders spoke of the idealism of the younger generations, their refusal to believe in impossibilities and their dedication to fairness and equality. Sanders then challenged the scholars and leaders at the conference to do their parts to make the world a better place.
“Our challenge is mostly a moral one, to redirect our efforts and vision to the common good. Centesimus Annus, which we celebrate and reflect on today, and Laudato Si’, are powerful, eloquent and hopeful messages of this possibility. It is up to us to learn from them, and to move boldly toward the common good in our time.”
In an era when society is truly global, a meeting of some of the world’s greatest minds is extremely important. The fact that Bernie Sanders was in attendance is, in itself, notable, and the fact that he was a scheduled speaker is even more so. By attending the conference, Bernie Sanders demonstrated an interest in and an understanding of global concerns many politicians do not share. Through his admiration for Pope Francis and his recognition of the influence of the Catholic church, Bernie Sanders, born into a Jewish family, shows a willingness to reach across religious lines exhibited by few politicians.
— Susan StopDarkAct (@SusanStopsongs) April 9, 2016
Bernie Sanders may have flown across the Atlantic in a chartered plane (likely done at the demands of the Secret Service) and he may have eaten Caprese ravioli (which is not exactly caviar), but for someone in his position as a presidential candidate, these things do not a bad person make. Instead, Sanders’ invitation to the conference, the contents of his speech, and his willingness to abandon the campaign trail to attend an event that could positively affect the world is further evidence of the fact that Bernie Sanders is a good person, which is something rarely heard in honest reference to any politician.
[Photo by Andrew Medichini/AP Images]