Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders said it was an honour to meet Pope Francis  Reuters

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said he was "honoured" to meet Pope Francis during a trip the Vatican. The pair had a brief meeting before the pontiff left to meet migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos.

"It was a real honour for me, for my wife and I to spend some time with him," Sanders said. "I think he is one of the extraordinary figures, not only in the world today but in modern world history."

Sanders had been attending a conference on economy and social justice at the Vatican. An aide confirmed the meeting lasted five minutes and no photographs were taken.

Disagreement and praise

"I told him that I was incredibly appreciative of the incredible role that he is playing on this planet in discussing issues about the need for an economy based on morality, not greed," Sanders said.

Sanders has previously acknowledged he disagrees with the Catholic Church's teachings on some social issues, such as gay marriage, but has also praised Pope Francis for "injecting a moral consequence into the economy".

He said the early morning meeting outside the papal residence's breakfast room had been an "honour and joy".

Sanders, who has won six of the last seven nominating contests in the Democratic race, flew to Vatican City just days before the crucial New York primary against Hillary Clinton, who has a significant 250-delegate lead in the primaries.

New York has a significant number of Catholic voters but Sanders insisted the meeting should not be viewed as an endorsement from the Pope,

"The issues that I talked about yesterday at the conference as you well know are issues that I have been talking about not just throughout this campaign but throughout my political life," he said.

He added: "I am just very much appreciated the fact that the pope in many ways has been raising these issues in a global way in the sense that I have been trying to raise them in the United States."

The wrong move

Some questioned his motivations for leaving New York ahead of the pivotal vote, including the CNN political commentator, Charles Blow.

"It's a real misstep," said Blow, who is also a New York Times commentator. "If Sanders was leaving the United States to travel abroad to broaden his portfolio of things he could discuss, I think it would be really smart.

"That's not what he's doing. He's basically going to be saying the same thing there that he's been saying here."

According to the Associated Press, Bernie Saunders has the support of 1,069 delegates (including 31 superdelegates). Hillary Clinton has 1,758 delegates (including 469 superdelegates). A candidate requires the support of 2,383 delegates in order to be nominated as a candidate for the presidential election during the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Superdelegates are able to vote for either presidential candidate.

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