Pope says Donald Trump ‘not a Christian’
VATICAN CITY – Agence France-Presse
Pope Francis leads the First Vespers and Te Deum prayers in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican December 31, 2015 and U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (R) holds up a copy of the Bible he said his mother gave him as a youth during a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, December 29, 2015 in a combination of file photos. REUTERS PhotoPope Francis has questioned Donald Trump’s Christian faith over his vow to build a border wall to keep out immigrants, sparking a backlash from the Republican presidential candidate.
“Anyone, whoever he is, who only wants to build walls and not bridges is not a Christian,” the pontiff told journalists Feb. 17 during his return journey from a trip to Mexico.
He was responding to a question about the billionaire’s anti-immigrant stance.
“Vote, don’t vote, I won’t meddle. But I simply say, if he says these things, this man is not a Christian,” Francis said.
“We need to see if he really said them and for this I will give him the benefit of the doubt.”
After initially launching into an audacious denunciation of Francis, Trump later softened his tone dramatically.
“For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful,” Trump said in a statement delivered on a campaign stop in South Carolina, which holds its Republican primary this weekend.
But hours later, at a townhall event, the real estate tycoon heaped praise on the pontiff.
“Oh, the pope is a wonderful guy,” Trump said, suggesting the media had hyped and exaggerated the tone of his earlier statement.
“I have a lot of respect for the pope. I think he’s got a lot of personality, he’s very different, a great guy, and I think he’s doing a very good job, he has a lot of energy.”
Trump said the pontiff was misinformed, unaware of the impact of the drugs coming into the United States and a range of security issues that make it necessary to build a wall.
The leading Republican presidential candidate also said he would welcome an opportunity to meet the pope.
Trump has gained popularity by claiming Mexico is sending criminals to the United States, and last week he accused the pope of visiting the border between the two countries at the bidding of the Mexican government.
Francis was speaking after concluding a five-day trip to Mexico, where he delivered a mass before 300,000 people near the U.S. border and decried the “human tragedy” of migrants fleeing violence worldwide.
In a highly symbolic gesture, the pontiff climbed a ramp facing the Rio Grande and looked out across the border into U.S. territory, where hundreds of migrants waved at him.
Trump has vowed to build a wall on the U.S. southern border to keep migrants from illegally crossing into the United States, a pledge that has caused a firestorm in the presidential campaign where immigration is a hot-button issue.