bernie sanders
Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders praised Pope Francis' attention to income inequality in his speech to Congress. Pictured: Sanders pauses while speaking at the New Hampshire Democratic Party State Convention in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Sept. 19, 2015. Reuters/Brian Snyder

Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders praised Pope Francis Thursday for his speech calling for action on climate change and poverty, and for highlighting the accomplishments of Catholic socialist Dorothy Day.

Sanders said Day "spent her life fighting for the poor and fighting for justice," and praised the pope’s decision to mention her alongside such figures as Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and Thomas Merton, in an interview with CNN. "She was a very, very progressive ... socialist who organized working people and the poor to stand up to the wealthy and the powerful and to fight for social justice," Sanders, who identifies as a democratic socialist, added.

Day was renowned for founding the Catholic Worker Movement, a labor rights group which advocated nonviolence, as well as a support group for the poor and homeless. She also co-founded the Catholic Worker Newspaper in 1931 and served as its editor until her death in 1980.

“In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints,” Francis said in his speech.

"The fact that he cited her -- not to mention Martin Luther King Jr. -- as one of the people he appreciated tells you where this man is coming from in the global world," Sanders said. "The fact that he talked about somebody that spent her life fighting for the poor and fighting for justice."

In his speech, Francis also called for the abolition of the death penalty and for a political and moral reform around America’s attitude towards immigrants. He also drew attention to the issue of poverty and called for the equitable distribution of wealth.

“The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes...It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth,” he said.

Similarly, Sanders has made inequality the central focus of his campaign. He endorsed a group of minimum wage workers who held a labor strike Tuesday morning, ahead of the pope’s visit in Washington in order to draw his attention to the issue.

The pope’s views on issues such as climate change, immigration and gun control, as well as his sustained criticism of capitalism, are at odds with the views of many GOP members. Several lawmakers had advised the religious leader to steer clear of politically charged topics during his U.S. trip.

Pope Francis’ tour of the U.S. includes stops in Washington, New York and Philadelphia. The leader is expected to deliver remarks to the United Nations General Assembly, visit a Harlem-area school and deliver a mass at Madison Square Garden. He is also scheduled to visit a prison, deliver several masses and visit Independence Hall in Philadelphia.