Bernie Sanders: Meeting with pope was not political

Last Updated Apr 16, 2016 12:28 PM EDT

ROME --Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Sen.Bernie Sanders was invited to Vatican City to make a speech about income inequality. Despite the Vatican initially saying there would be no meeting between Sanders and Pope Francis, one happened anyway Saturday morning.

Because of the political nature of the meeting, the Vatican initially had tried to distance itself from Sanders' visit, reports CBS News correspondent Seth Doane. But the Pope did meet Sanders and his wife in a brief meeting.

On a terrace overlooking Vatican City, Sanders told CBS News "beauty" "resonated" from Pope Francis.

"Are there pictures of this meeting with the pope, or was it behind closed doors?" Doane asked.

"Well, it was neither, but we chose not to do pictures. We didn't want anyone to think this was political," Sanders said.

"But it is political, isn't it?" Doane asked.

"No, if I was really being political, I'd be in New York City right now and not in Rome," Sanders said. "For me, the issues that the pope is talking about are issues that I've been talking about for many, many years."

Officially, Sanders had been invited to take part in an academic conference for a body that advises Pope Francis.

"It would have been something that I would've kicked myself for years to come if I did not accept this invitation, so I'm happy to be here," Sanders said.

The trip was billed as being "above politics," but the New York primary is three days away, and about one-third of New Yorkers are Catholic.

"You say you left the campaign trail. On the contrary it appears that you brought the campaign trail to Rome," Doane pointed out.

"Well, we are here ... because I am an enormous respecter of what Pope Francis has done," Sanders responded.

"It seems that a lot of your supporters would be in favor of a separation between church and state. This seems to fly in the face of that?" Doane said.

"No, not at all," Sanders said, chuckling. "This has nothing to do with church and state. This is the fact that we have a man today who I believe is the outstanding global leader of our time...in the fight for social justice, economic justice, and trying to combat climate change."

The pope told reporters about the meeting with Sanders in his own words Saturday, describing his greeting as simple "politeness" and denying that he was "meddling in politics."

"When I was leaving (Casa Santa Marta) Senator Sanders was there, he came to the meeting on Centesimus Annus, and he knew that I was leaving at that time, and he had the courtesy to greet me," Pope Francis said. "I greeted him and his wife and another couple that was with him."

"So when I went down, I said hello, a shake of the hand and nothing more," he continued. "This is politeness. This is called good manners, not meddling in politics. And if anyone thinks that to greet someone means to meddle in politics, then I suggest that they find a psychiatrist."

The pope injected himself right into another hot-button political issue Saturday, traveling to the Greek island of Lesbos, just after the European Union began deporting migrants back to Turkey.

He met with migrants who had made the dangerous journey and told them, "You are not alone... do not lose hope."

In another surprise from the pope, it was announced that 12 Syrian refugees, including six children, would travel with him to Rome aboard the papal flight. "The Vatican will take responsibility for bringing in and maintaining the three families," the Vatican confirmed.