CIUDAD JUÁREZ/EL PASO – A Vatican spokesman took on GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump Tuesday night, calling Trump’s criticism of Pope Francis over his pro-immigrant stance “very strange” and suggesting Trump could use a dose of global perspective.
Speaking during the pontiff’s Feb. 12-17 trip to Mexico, and just before the pope was scheduled to say Mass at the US/Mexico border, the Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters the pope’s concern for the human dignity of migrants and refugees is universal.
“The pope always talks about migration problems all around the world, of the duties we have to solve these problems in a humane manner, of hosting those who come from other countries in search of a life of dignity and peace,” Lombardi said.
The pope routinely makes similar comments to European leaders, he said, which “Trump would know if he came to Europe.”
The Vatican spokesman added that Francis knows he doesn’t have all the answers to the problems afflicting Mexico, including the immigration issue, and he framed the pope’s concerns as humanitarian and pastoral rather than political.
Lombardi was responding to a recent interview with Trump in which the GOP front-runner criticized Pope Francis’ scheduled stop at the border in Ciudad Juárez, immediately adjacent to El Paso.
“I think that the pope is a very political person,” Trump said on a Fox Business Network program, adding that he thinks Francis is being manipulated by Mexico to advance its political and economic interests.
“I think he doesn’t understand the problems our country has,” Trump said.
“I don’t think he understands the danger of the open border that we have with Mexico,” he said. “I think Mexico got him to do it because Mexico wants to keep the border just the way it is because they’re making a fortune and we’re losing.”
During his brief stop in Ciudad Juárez on Wednesday, Francis is scheduled to visit a prison, meet with workers, and celebrate Mass. Vatican organizers have said that the venue for the Mass holds 220,000 people, and roughly 30,000 spaces have been reserved for immigrants, their families, and the victims of violence.
On the US side, a group of several hundred “Pope Francis VIPs,” including immigrants, will be assembled on a small strip of land immediately across the border, roughly 65 yards from the pope’s location, where they will receive a papal blessing.
A much larger crowd is expected to fill El Paso’s Sun Bowl Stadium for a special program on Wednesday, which will include live video of the pope’s activities.
Francis returns to Rome Wednesday night, wrapping up a six-day Mexico trip that’s taken him to Mexico City, Ecatepec, Chiapas, and Morelia before winding up in Ciudad Juárez. As is customary, the pontiff is expected to hold a news conference on the flight back to Rome.