Francis meets Bernie Sanders briefly to discuss climate change

Pope Francis met U.S. Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders briefly Saturday morning at the Vatican's Santa Marta guesthouse where the pontiff lives, taking about five minutes to talk about the global economy and climate change before heading out on his visit to Lesbos, Greece.

Sanders had arrived at the Vatican Friday for a brief visit away from the campaign trail to address a conference on building a more moral economy. The question of whether the candidate would meet the pope had hovered over the trip, with some criticizing the Vermont senator for politicizing Francis.

Jeffrey Sachs, an American who had helped organize the Vatican conference, told reporters traveling with the pope on speakerphone from Greece that Sanders used the meeting to thank Francis for his environmental message and his recent encyclical Laudato Si'.

Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, said those present for the meeting also included Sanders' and Sachs' wives and Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, the chancellor of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of the Sciences.

Sanders had spent Friday night at the Santa Marta guesthouse. Sachs said the candidate met Francis at about 6:00 am in Rome, just before the pope headed to the airport for a one-day visit to Lesbos.

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It is as yet unknown whether any photographs were taken of the meeting.

Sanders spoke Friday at an event co-hosted by the pontifical academy and the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies on the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's 1991 encyclical letter Centesimus Annus.

Sanders' presence at the conference has been the source of some controversy, as the pontifical academy's president, Margaret Archer, initially said the candidate had asked for an invitation to come. But Sanchez Sorondo later clarified that he had invited the candidate.

The senator told press after the event that he has been "enormously impressed" by the pope, who he said is giving "visionary views about creating a moral economy, an economy that works for all people not just the people on top."

Sanders is to return to New York Saturday, rejoining the campaign trail.

Francis is spending just under five hours Saturday on Lesbos, a Greek island that has become the waypoint for hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking asylum in Europe. He is being joined by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Greek Orthodox Patriarch Ieronymos II.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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