Bernie Sanders Accepts An Invitation From The Vatican Bernie Sanders plans to attend a Vatican conference about social, economic and environmental issues next week. Sanders says he's a "big, big fan of the pope" for "talking about the idolatry of money."
NPR logo Bernie Sanders Accepts An Invitation From The Vatican

Bernie Sanders Accepts An Invitation From The Vatican

NPR's Don Gonyea spotted this poster at Bernie Sanders' Buffalo field office in New York. Sanders has often praised Pope Francis for his focus on economic inequality. Don Gonyea /NPR hide caption

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Don Gonyea /NPR

NPR's Don Gonyea spotted this poster at Bernie Sanders' Buffalo field office in New York. Sanders has often praised Pope Francis for his focus on economic inequality.

Don Gonyea /NPR

Bernie Sanders will be taking a few days off the campaign trail to attend a Vatican conference about social, economic and environmental issues.

The day after a debate in New York next week, Sanders will travel to Rome for the event.

In an interview on MSNBC's Morning Joe, Sanders said he was "a big, big fan of the pope."

"He has played an unbelievable role, unbelievable role in injecting a moral consequence into the economy," Sanders said. "He's talking about the idolatry of money, the worship of money, the greed that's out there."

In a statement from his campaign, Sanders praised the pope for focusing on income inequality — the defining issue of his own presidential campaign.

"Pope Francis has made clear that we must overcome 'the globalization of indifference' in order to reduce economic inequalities, stop financial corruption and protect the natural environment. That is our challenge in the United States and in the world," Sanders said in a statement.

No meeting between Sanders and Pope Francis has been scheduled.

Sanders, who is Jewish, has often praised the current pope. He previously referred to Francis as a "socialist," in an interview obtained by The Washington Post. "When (Pope Francis) talks about wealth being used to serve people, not as an end in itself, I agree with that," Sanders said in the interview.

Sanders and Francis often speak about the economy in nearly identical ways. In 2014, the pope took to Twitter with this message:

Francis is sometimes described as a "liberal" pope for his views on immigration, income inequality and the death penalty; but, Catholic teaching straddles political affiliation, particularly because of the Church's stance on same-sex marriage.

With his public statements, Francis seems to have emboldened the church's social justice wing, and Democrats are widely embracing him. Last year, a number of big-city Democratic mayors (Boston's Marty Walsh and New York's Bill de Blasio) attended a Vatican conference on climate change.

For Sanders, the trip's timing is also fortuitous, coming just ahead of the New York and Pennsylvania primaries (April 19 and April 26 respectively).

Both states have sizable Catholic populations — a mix of traditionally Democratic white working class voters and a smaller, but growing, Hispanic community.

The Pew Research Center estimates one-third of people in the New York City metro area identify as Catholic, and similarly, about a quarter (26 percent) in Philadelphia.

Many of those Catholics lean left — 46 percent surveyed by Pew in New York and Pennsylvania identify as Democrats.

For a full breakdown of New York Catholic demographics, you can sift through the data on the Pew website.

The Pennsylvania information is available here.

Correction April 8, 2016

In a prior version of this story we said that when he visited the U.S. last year, Pope Francis "met briefly with Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who defied a court order to issue marriage licenses for gay couples." That was a mischaracterization. The Vatican has said Davis was one of "several dozen" people who came to the Vatican's embassy in Washington to greet the pope. According to the Vatican, the pope did not discuss with Davis the actions she had taken and was not signaling support for what she had done.