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‘I would be kicking myself’ if I declined Vatican invite, says Bernie Sanders

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders will give a ten minute speech at the Vatican (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

US Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has said that he would “be kicking myself” if he turned down an invitation to speak at a Vatican conference today.

The Vermont senator has taken time out from his campaign for the Democratic nomination just four days before the crucial primary in New York, where Hillary Clinton was senator for eight years. Mrs Clinton is hoping for a clear victory to wrest back momentum from Mr Sanders, who has won eight of the last nine primaries and caucuses.

“I obviously would not be leaving in the middle of a very hard-fought primary here if this were not an opportunity that comes once in a lifetime,” Mr Sanders said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “I am deeply impressed by the commitment of the Pope to speak out about economic and social and environmental injustice and I would be kicking myself if I refused this opportunity.”

Mr Sanders will be speaking for just 10 minutes at a conference organised by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Centesimus Annus, St Pope John Paul II’s teaching on the economy and social justice.

His talk is titled “The Urgency of a Moral Economy: Reflections on the 25th Anniversary of Centesimus Annus.”

“What I’m planning to say is that it is not acceptable from a moral perspective, from an economic perspective or from an environmental perspective that so few have so much and that greed is running as rampant as it is throughout the entire planet,” Mr Sanders said.

Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor for the pontifical academy, said he invited Mr Sanders to speak because he was the only US presidential candidate who showed deep interest in the teachings of Pope Francis.

But the senator will not meet the Pope during his short visit to the Vatican with his wife, children and grandchildren.

Other speakers at the conference include President Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa, former president of Ecuador, both, like Sanders, on the political left.

The Catholic vote in America is no longer as predictable as it once was.

Some commentators have suggested that it is possible Mr Sanders’s decision to speak at the Vatican conference may swing some voters in New York, where one in three registered voters identify as Catholic, to vote for him next Tuesday.

Rhode Island and Connecticut, which hold their primaries on April 26, also have high Catholic populations.