Pope Francis’s suggestion that Donald Trump was “not Christian” because of his views on immigration was not a personal attack on the US Republican presidential candidate, said Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi.
Fr Lombardi told Vatican Radio the Pope’s comments, made to reporters during a flight back from Mexico in response to a specific question on Mr Trump, were simply an affirmation of his long-standing belief that migrants should be helped rather than shut off behind walls.
“In no way was this a personal attack, nor an indication of how to vote,” Fr Lombardi said.
Mr Trump, the Republican front-runner, dismissed the Pope as “disgraceful” for questioning his faith. He has said that if elected president in November, he would build a wall along the US-Mexico border to keep out immigrants who enter illegally.
Fr Lombardi said the Pope believed people “should build bridges, not walls”.
He added: “This is his general view, which is very consistent with courageously following the indications of the gospel on offering welcome and solidarity.”
Hours after attacking the Pope’s comments, Mr Trump heaped praise on the pontiff.
“Oh, the Pope is a wonderful guy,” he 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.”
Mr Trump said the pontiff was misinformed, unaware of the impact of the drugs coming into the US, and a range of security issues that make it necessary to build a wall. He also said he would welcome an opportunity to meet the Pope.
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