To be fair, Trump started it. Before Pope Francis arrived in Mexico last week, the U.S. Republican presidential candidate lectured him about problems with immigration and security at the U.S. border. “I think that the pope is a very political person,” Trump said. “I think he doesn’t understand the problems that our country has.”
The Vatican could have chosen to swat this away, dismissing Trump’s importance as a political figure or ignoring his comments altogether. Instead, Francis and his communications team have savvily used the free publicity that seems to follow Trump to bring attention to the message of the pope’s trip: Christians and governments alike are called to care for migrants and the poor, including those who try to cross the Mexican border every day. On Wednesday, a Vatican spokesperson called Trump’s comments “very strange.” And on Thursday, Francis himself addressed Trump’s comments in a conversation with reporters on his return flight to Rome.
“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,” he said, according to CNN.
Trump immediately hit back. “If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy,” he said in a statement on his website, “I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would not have happened.” He also suggested that the pope is a pawn of the Mexican government and said it’s “disgraceful” for “a religious leader to question a person’s faith.”