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At Vatican, Sanders echoes pope's teachings on social justice

US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has praised Pope Francis for his moral vision on the economy and environment in a visit to the Vatican. Sanders was invited due to his interest in the pope's teachings.

Speaking at the Vatican on Friday, Senator Bernie Sanders hit on many of his central campaign themes by decrying "corrupt and broken politics and an economy of stark inequality and injustice."

The Democratic presidential candidate took time away from the busy campaign trail ahead of a

critical primary on Tuesday in New York State

, where he must add to a recent string of victories against Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton to close the delegate gap.

The self-declared social democrat arrived at the Holy See for a conference on social and economic justice, something he said he couldn't pass up because of the pontiff's "historic and incredible" positions on economic and

environmental issues

.

"What the pope is saying is that we cannot continue to go forward when so few have so much and when greed is such a destructive force, not only in the United States of course but around this world," Sanders told reporters.

"So when I received this invitation, and I know it's taking me away from the campaign trail for a day, it was so moving to me that it was simply something I could not refuse to attend."

As expected Sanders didn't meet with the pontiff, who apologized to conference attendees for not attending due to preparations for a Saturday visit to the refugee-flooded Greek island of Lesbos.

Immoral, unsustainable economy

Addressing the audience at the Pontifical Academy of Social Science, a Vatican think tank addressing social, economic and environmental issues, the 74-year-old Sanders touched on issues that have defined his campaign: inequality, education, money in politics, banking regulations, social justice and the environment.

"At a time when so few have so much, and so many have so little, we must reject the foundations of this contemporary economy as immoral and unsustainable," he said, echoing the sentiments of Pope Francis.

He told the audience of academics, religious figures and two South American presidents that instead of a world economy that provides 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."

In other parts of his speech Sanders echoed the pope's positions on the environment, saying "we've got to ingrain moral principles into our economy and there is no area where that is clearer than the area of climate change. The greed of the fossil fuel industry is literally destroying our planet."

Last year, the pope wrote a

landmark encyclical

, or papal treatise, on the need to protect the environment.

Watch video 01:57

The pope versus Donald Trump

Only presidential candidate interested in pope's teachings

As he walked outside Vatican City's Perugino gate, Sanders was met by about two dozen American supporters holding signs and hoping to catch a glimpse of a presidential candidate who has energized progressives.

As the first Jewish candidate to win a US primary, some back home speculated Sanders had lobbied the Vatican to get invited to the conference to get a boost from Catholic voters, something his aides denied.

Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, the chancellor of the pontifical academy, said earlier he had invited Sanders because he was the only US presidential candidate to show an interest in the teachings of Francis.

Sanders heads back to the campaign trail on Sunday.

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