Bernie Sanders has often declared himself a big fan of Pope Francis, so it’s no surprise that he deemed his brief meeting with the pontiff at the Vatican this morning “extraordinary.”
The candidate in the US Democratic presidential primary was briefly visiting the Vatican today for a conference on social, economic, and environmental issues. While there are no photos of the two together, Sanders told reporters he was “incredibly appreciative” to have the honor of chatting exclusively with the religious leader, who he called a “beautiful man.”
To the Pope, however—well, even the word “meeting” seems to overstate how he saw their encounter. He made a point of clarifying that the handshake and pleasantries they exchanged should not be seen as a political endorsement.
“This morning when I was leaving, Senator Sanders was there,” he told reporters in Italian aboard the papal airliner today, after his visit to the refugee-filled Greek island of Lesbos. “He knew I was leaving at that time and he had the courtesy to greet me. I greeted him, his wife, and another couple who were there and were sleeping in Santa Martha. This is called good manners and it is not getting involved in politics.”
Added the Pope, laughing, “If anyone thinks that greeting someone is getting involved in politics, I recommend that he look for a psychiatrist.”
The Vatican initially had said there would be no meeting between Sanders and the Pope this weekend, and some officials had accused him of wrangling an invitation to the conference, and of pandering to the Catholic vote.
But it appears the Democratic senator managed to make a meeting happen anyway. Jeffrey D. Sachs, an economist and adviser to Sanders’ campaign, told the New York Times that he was present and the chat lasted roughly five minutes.
Sanders was perhaps feeling emboldened after his rally in New York City a few days earlier, which drew a stunning (and somewhat squashed) 15,000 to 27,000 supporters in Washington Square Park. Props, at least, to his steely determination.