Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has announced that he will attend a Vatican conference on social justice and the economy just before the New York primary election on April 19.

“I was very moved by the invitation from the Vatican which was just made public today,” Sanders said April 8 during an interview on MSNBC's “Morning Joe.”

The invitation was extended on behalf of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

The academy is hosting an academic discussion April 15 to 16 to mark the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Centesimus annus which was written for the 100th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum novarum.

Participants will reflect on world changes over the last 25 years and how Catholic social teaching can best serve these new challenges.

Sanders called himself a “big, big fan” of Pope Francis for his work at “injecting moral consequence into the economy.”

“He’s trying to inject a sense of morality into how we do economics,” Sanders said, “and we need that absolutely, desperately.”

Sanders has been an outspoken advocate for the poor and unemployed, supporting issues such as a national $15 per hour minimum wage and free tuition at public colleges and universities as well as expansion of social security benefits for the elderly.

However, Sanders noted of the Holy Father, “Obviously there are areas where we disagree on women’s rights (and) on gay rights.”

Sanders has described himself as “very strongly pro-choice” and has made the repeal of the Hyde Amendment — a law that bars taxpayer funds from being used for abortions — a part of his presidential campaign.

He has a strong record of voting against pro-life proposals in the Senate, including most recently, the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act which would prevent abortion after 20 weeks gestation, when an unborn child is capable of feeling pain.

A longtime supporter of gay rights, Sanders has vowed to “(v)eto any legislation that purports to ‘protect’ religious liberty at the expense of other’s rights” if he’s elected president.

Sanders said that he will speak at the upcoming conference on April 15, though it has not been confirmed if he will actually meet Pope Francis.

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