Column: In defense of the Pope, against Donald Trump

 In this Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016 file photo, Pope Francis waves from his popemobile as he leaves the fairgrounds in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where he celebrated an outdoor Mass. When politicians were confronted in recent years about how their policies fit their faith, the issue at hand was usually abortion and the targets were mostly Democrats. Flying back to Rome, the pontiff managed to put the Republicans on the defensive by rebuking Donald Trump on a different issue: immigration. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

A new rivalry developed last week between two unlikely candidates: Pope Francis and Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.

According to a CNN report, the Pontiff was returning to Rome from a trip to Mexico when he was asked about Trump’s immigration policies. He responded by saying that “a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”

Trump fired back that it was “disgraceful” for the Pope to question a man’s faith and accused him of becoming overly involved in politics. In reality, however, Pope Francis’s actions are a clear fulfillment of one of his greatest responsibilities as the leader of the Catholic Church.

As the Pontiff, Pope Francis is something of a protector of the Catholic faith – not a wartime crusader, but rather one who must uphold the ideals of Catholicism. One of the chief principles of the faith can be found in the Bible, in Mark 12:31: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” His visit to Mexico and comments on immigration are a tribute to this Catholic tenet.

Yes, his moment of prayer at the U.S.-Mexican border was a statement. Yes, it is a statement that may have pushed him into the political sphere. But it is important to note that Pope Francis’s intentions are first and foremost founded not in politics, but in humanitarianism. And what is the job of a pope, if not to be a humanitarian?

The Pontiff’s visit to Mexico was not a meeting with Mexican or American politicians, but an outreach to the poor. According to the CNN report, he celebrated mass in Ciuadad Juarez, which is located next to the U.S.-Mexican border.

Though he criticized leaders on both sides of the border, it was for their “forced migration” of Central Americans that has worsened this “human tragedy.” He later prayed by the Rio Grande, where countless Mexicans have died trying to cross into the United States. Pope Francis’s sympathy was not for individual nations, but for those who have suffered, regardless of which borders they reside in. In this way, he promotes neighborliness with ideas that transcend political boundaries: religion and morality.

Surprisingly, even these good intentions have not protected the Pontiff from angry opposition, which I find to be the true “disgrace” of this conflict. Instead, Trump’s campaign accused the Pope of being a pawn of the Mexican government and called him hypocritical, noting that Vatican City is “100 percent surrounded by massive walls.”

Not only is this quite simply not true – in fact, St. Peter’s Square serves as an open front door where visitors only have pass through light security – it is also a childish claim that demonstrates a severe lack of understanding about the Vatican.

According to Rev. Edward Beck, CNN’s religion analyst, the walls were built under the papacy of Leo IV to protect St. Peter’s Basilica from frequent barbarian invasions during the Middle Ages. To compare this to the United States’ situation is absolutely ridiculous, despite Donald Trump’s false claims that Mexican immigrants are “criminals and rapists.”

While the Vatican walls are no longer as necessary as they were under Pope Leo IV, they have become a part of the historical and cultural museum that is Vatican City today, and while they do still offer some protection for the resident pope, they would be better compared to the defenses around the White House. After all, the pope is not only a religious leader, but the head of a sovereign state who must accept the dangers that accompany his position of power.

Still, I cannot imagine that a modern pope such as Pope Francis would condone the building of additional walls, as Trump has assured Americans he will do of the U.S.-Mexican border.

It is fair to say that Pope Francis does not have the right to contribute to the lawmaking process of individual countries, but he does have the right – and the responsibility – to define what the Catholic faith stands for.

As the crusader for Catholic ideals, it is imperative that he take action against those who bastardize his faith and use it for ill, political purposes. Perhaps Pope Francis is more political than other popes, but he has been dragged into the political sphere by politicians who suppress rights and defend antihumanitarian policies in the name of religion.

As long as Pope Francis is the head of the Catholic Church, it is his duty to promote the loving and accepting nature of his faith before others can redefine it.


Alex Oliveira is a staff writer for the Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at alexandra.oliveira@uconn.edu.