Pope Francis
Pope Francis

NEW YORK: The front-runner Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, and Pope Francis traded sharp statements on Thursday about immigration and building a border wall between the US and Mexico.

The head of the Roman Catholic church, Pope Francis, declared that Donald Trump is “not a Christian” if he wants to address illegal immigration only by building a wall along the US-Mexico border.

Trump fired back ferociously, saying it was “disgraceful” for a religious leader to question a person’s faith. Within hours he toned down his criticism of the pontiff saying perhaps “he was not aware” of the facts on building the wall.

But the rare back-and-forth between the pope and the presidential candidate was the latest astonishing development in an American election already roiled by Trump’s free-wheeling rhetoric and controversial policy proposals, particularly on immigration.

After hosting a mass in Mexico’s Ciudad Juárez, on the border with the US, the pope responded to a question about Trump’s position on immigration: “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not a Christian. This is not in the gospel”.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

Still he declined to offer advice to the Catholics who are voting in this year’s election, a report said.

Last week, Trump told a TV news channel that the pope is a “very political person” who doesn’t understand the US-Mexico relationship. But this week’s papal comment inspired Trump to respond even more forcefully.

A veteran journalist observed that the Republican party is in danger of a split if the rancour between the candidates escalates further.

“If and when the Vatican is attacked by IS (the militant Islamic State group), which as everyone knows is IS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been the president because this would not have happened,” he wrote in a statement.

“For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful. No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith.”

Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota, a national organisation that promotes civic engagement among Latinos, said: “It’s too early to tell what the outcome of this most recent exchange will be”.

“Every time Donald Trump speaks badly about our community, I can see that more people become more anti-Trump and, I think more anti-Republican”, he said.

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2016

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