Bernie Sanders shares place of honor with Bolivian Socialist leader in Vatican visit

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Hours after wrapping up a heated debate in New York Thursday night, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders arrived in Rome to take part in an event commemorating the 25th anniversary of a landmark document from John Paul on social and economic justice.

Sanders sat next to the other main guest of honor at the Vatican: Bolivian President Evo Morales, who is renowned for his anti-imperialist, socialist rhetoric.

The Vermont senator cited Pope Francis and St. John Paul II repeatedly during his speech to the Vatican conference, calling for global action to address "immoral and unsustainable" wealth inequality and poverty.

He told the audience of priests, bishops, academics and two South American presidents that rather than a world economy that looks out for the common good, "we have been left with an economy operated for the top 1 percent, who get richer and richer as the working class, the young and the poor fall further and further behind."

The roughly 24-hour visit precedes Tuesday's crucial New York primary, which Sanders must do well in to maintain any viable challenge against front-runner Hillary Clinton.

The invitation to address the Vatican conference raised eyebrows and allegations that the senator lobbied for the invitation.

The chancellor for the pontifical academy, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, has said he invited Sanders because he was the only U.S. presidential candidate who showed deep interest in the teachings of Francis.

Other attendees included Evo Morales of Bolivia and President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, along with Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, a member of the academy, and Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs, an adviser to the United Nations on environmental and sustainability issues. Sachs has advised Sanders on foreign policy issues.

Pope Francis apologized that he couldn't personally greet participants at the Vatican conference. No meeting with Sanders was expected.

Sanders was accompanied on the trip by his wife, Jane Sanders, and 10 family members, including four grandchildren.

His talk was titled "The Urgency of a Moral Economy: Reflections on the 25th Anniversary of Centesimus Annus." The conference was organized by a Vatican advisory group comparable to a think-tank that Francis appointed to guide him on a wide range of public policy issues.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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