Pope vs Trump: War of words – “Not Christian,” “disgraceful”

Pope Francis and Donald Trump

Vatican City: Pope Francis on Thursday intervened explosively in the US election campaign, saying Donald Trump cannot claim to be a Christian and also vow to build a border wall to keep out immigrants.

“Anyone, whoever he is, who only wants to build walls and not bridges is not a Christian,” the pontiff told journalists during his return journey from a trip to Mexico.

Pope Francis speaks to journalists aboard his flight from Mexico to Italy, on February 18, 2016. “Anyone, whoever he is, who only wants to build walls and not bridges is not a Christian,” the pontiff said, in a clear reference to Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump.

He was responding to a question about the Republican White House hopeful’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.”

Despite that qualifier, Francis’s remarks drew swift and angry condemnation from the billionaire tycoon.

“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.

“I am proud to be a Christian and as president I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened.”

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads from a statement about Pope Francis during a campaign rally in Kiawah, South Carolina. “For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful,” he said.

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 US border and decried the “human tragedy” of migrants fleeing violence worldwide.

Trump has vowed to build a wall on the US 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.

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