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Will a visit to the Vatican help Bernie Sanders?
The democratic presidential candidate will speak at a Vatican conference on Friday, April 15. - photo by Kelsey Dallas
Sen. Bernie Sanders announced Friday that he will speak at the Vatican on April 15. The Democratic presidential candidate, who is Jewish, will participate in a conference on the economic, political and cultural changes that have taken place over the past 25 years.

Sanders' invitation to speak is the second time this campaign season that Vatican leaders have waded into the U.S. presidential race. In February, Pope Francis dominated a news cycle after questioning whether Donald Trump understands Christianity.

"Pope Francis (said) that GOP front-runner Donald Trump 'is not Christian' if he calls for the deportation of undocumented immigrants and pledges to build a wall between the United States and Mexico," CNN reported at the time.

However, the pope was careful not to endorse a candidate or even direct people's votes away from anyone.

"As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that," the pope said.

Similarly, the Vatican's invitation to Sanders should not be seen as support for his campaign, The Atlantic reported.

"It seems unlikely that Francis himself was involved in making this invitation, and this shouldn't be taken as some kind of papal presidential endorsement," the article noted.

It's not uncommon for elected U.S. presidents to meet with the pope. That's been happening for nearly a century, NPR reported in October. The article noted that "the talks are private, often personal and take place against the backdrop of the politics of the time."

John F. Kennedy, the only Catholic to hold America's highest office, met with Pope Paul VI at the Vatican in 1963, after confronting anti-Catholic bias throughout his campaign.

Although Sanders is not scheduled to meet with Pope Francis while he's at the Vatican, a meeting "could serve to broaden his appeal to Catholic voters ahead of crucial nominating contests in a series of Northeastern states," Reuters reported.

American Catholics are slightly more likely to identify as Democrats than Republicans, according to a recent Pew Research Center analysis. Forty-four percent of Catholics in the U.S. are Democrats or lean to the left, compared to 37 percent who identify as Republican or lean to the right, the report noted.
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