"I'm so excited and proud to be here with other people who are trying to create a moral economy," US Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said upon his arrival in Rome. He left New York immediately after a heated debate with his rival Hillary Clinton. He is at the Vatican to attend a conference on social, economic and environmental issues at Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.
The visit comes just four days before a crucial state primary contest in New York, where 291 delegates are at stake. Before leaving, on Thursday night, the
two democratic candidates clashed against each other on issues ranging from minimum wage, trade agreements, Wall Street banks, gun controls, judicial system reform, foreign affairs, to popular trust.
After an overnight travel, Bernie Sanders landed in Rome on Friday morning and left the Airport traveling in an escorted motorcade to the Vatican, along his wife Jane, their children and grandchildren. In Rome, Bernie Sanders found supporters gathered at the Vatican, with T-shirts and signs saying: "Rome feels the Bern." or "Rome is Berning" . He is not expected to meet Pope Francis.
Bernie Sanders said inequality, injustice and pollution are causing "devastating" problems, before adding that "There are few places in modern thought that rival the depth and insight of the Church's moral teachings on the market economy. We can say that with unregulated globalization, a world market economy built on speculative finance burst through the legal, political and moral constraints that had once served to protect the common good."
Bernie Sanders pointed to some disagreements with the Catholic Church and Pope Francis, whom he considers "one of the great moral and religious leaders of our time and in modern history.", but said that they have common view vey important issues such as the need for a moral economy.
One of the most telling moment about Bernie Sanders' core values and deep rooted position on civil rights came when it came to debating the situation in Israel and the Middle-East.
"Of course Israel has a right to defend itself, but long term there will never be peace in that region unless the United States [recognizes] the serious problems that exist among the Palestinian people," Sanders said during the debate, and added "There comes a time when if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time."
This prompted Hillary Clinton's response, which confirms that US position on Israel-Palestine dynamics has been changing, at least in but in private negotiations. Hillary Clinton said:
"I'm the person who held the last three meetings between the president of the Palestinian Authority and the prime minister of Israel. There were only four of us in the room, Netanyahu, Abbas, George Mitchell, and me. Three long meetings. And I was absolutely focused on what was fair and right for the Palestinians."
What also struck in the debate on Thursday may be less of what has been said, rather that how it was said, the tone, sarcasm and palpable disdain between the candidates and the mood in the two camps. As Bernie Sanders was leaving for Rome, his rival Hillary Clinton apparently travelled to California for a fundraiser, prompting Mr Sanders' prominent supporter Bill Press to say that, on CNN, "[Bernie Sanders} may be leaving the state to see the Pope Francis. [Hillary Clinton] is leaving the state to see the Pope George Clooney in California ... So both of them are leaving the state"
The campaign appears to have reached an inflection point, with each candidate trying to score winning point, even if personal feelings towards each there show.