Pope Francis slams Donald Trump during visit to U.S.-Mexico border: He "is not a Christian"

"A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian”

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published February 18, 2016 5:51PM (EST)

 ((Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson, AP/Alessandra Tarantino))
((Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson, AP/Alessandra Tarantino))

Donald Trump's war of words reached new highs (or perhaps new lows) on Thursday when he called Pope Francis "disgraceful" after the Holy Leader suggested that The Donald is no real Christian.

"A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the gospel," Pope Francis said aboard a flight returning to the Vatican on Thursday after a nearly week long visit to Mexico and hours after holding a Mass at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Pope's remarks were in response to a question about Donald Trump and his fiery rhetoric on immigration. As the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics arrived in Mexico last week, Trump complained that the Pontiff had become "too political" and failed to understand "the danger of the open border that we have with Mexico."

“I think Mexico got him to do it because Mexico wants to keep the border just the way it is because they’re making a fortune,” Trump told Fox News last week.

On Wednesday, Pope Francis held a Mass for 70,000 Catholics in Juarez, at the U.S.-Mexico border along the Rio Grande. Francis laid flowers at a new memorial commemorating those who have died trying to cross the border.

During a press conference on his flight home, Francis was asked if he planned to advise his flock in the U.S. on how to vote in the upcoming election and although the Pope declined to outrightly endorse a candidate, he did allude to the loudest anti-immigrant voice in the race.

"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. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that," Francis said. “We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.”

The Pope also responded to Trump's accusation that he was being used as a pawn by the Mexican government. "Thank God he said I was a politician because Aristotle defined the human person as 'animal politicus.' So at least I am a human person," Francis said. "As to whether I am a pawn, well, maybe, I don't know. I'll leave that up to your judgment and that of the people."

Before the Pope's surprise reference to Trump's campaign today, the Republican frontrunner spoke more fondly of His Holiness during an interview with Breitbart News Daily on Sirius XM.

“I heard the pope and I respect the pope and I love the pope in many ways. I love what he stands for and I like his attitude. He’s very independent and he’s very different. He’s sort of a modern day pope if you think about it,” Trump told host Stephen K. Bannon today.

Trump defended his recent critiques of Pope Francis. “I put it out there because he was going to be at the border, and I said, you don’t know, because he made statements about sort of me I guess or whatever, and I put out a very strong statement that you’ve got to take a look at what’s happening. And he could have been persuaded. I don’t know. But I really respect the fact that he sees both sides,” Trump said Thursday morning.

But after he got wind of Pope Francis' comments, Trump wasted no time responding during a rally in Kiawah Island, South Carolina, Thursday afternoon. "I'm a very good Christian," Trump assured the crowd, telling them he was very surprised to hear Francis had questioned his faith.

"For a religious leader to question a person's faith is disgraceful," Trump said angrily. "As President I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened."

"If an when the Vatican is attacked," Trump's statement read, "I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed Donald Trump would have been President":

In defending Trump's ferociousness in responding to the Pontiff, Trump supporter and Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. compared Trump's words to those of Jesus.

"Jesus called the religious leaders of his day hypocrites, a generation of vipers and he called them wolves in sheeps' clothing, so if what Donald Trump said is bad, also what Jesus said is bad," Falwell said on CNN.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi also responded to Trump's accusation that the Pope's visit to Mexico was politically motivated: “The pope always talks about migration problems all around the world, of the duties we have to solve these problems in a humane manner, of hosting those who come from other countries in search of a life of dignity and peace.”

Pope Says Trump 'Not Christian,' Trump Responds

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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