ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE — During his in-flight news conference en route from Juarez. Mexico, to Rome, Pope Francis responded to recent criticism from Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump, who called the Pope “political” and who has said he will build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border if he is elected president.

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel,” the Pope said Feb. 18.

Pope Francis was asked to respond to comments from Trump, who had referred to the Pope as a “pawn” for the Mexican government. Trump says that he will build a wall along the border of the United States and Mexico to prevent undocumented immigrants from entering the United States.
 
The Pope spoke to journalists on his return flight. He paid an official Feb. 12-17 visit to the country, which climaxed with the celebration of Mass at the U.S.-Mexico border in Juarez City.

Immigration is a theme close to Francis’ heart. A son of Italian immigrants, the Argentine pontiff frequently speaks out, asking world leaders to overcome an attitude of indifference and to welcome incoming migrants with dignity and respect.

The Pope also touched on the issue in his speech to U.S. Congress last September, telling lawmakers not to be “fearful of foreigners” and reminding them of the many positive contributions immigrants make to the life of society. He also pointed out that many of them are descendants of immigrants themselves.

In a Feb. 11 interview with Fox Business Network, Trump criticized the Pope’s sympathy toward immigrants, as well as his decision to celebrate Mass at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I think the Pope is a very political person. I think he doesn’t understand the problems our country has,” Trump said.

Trump said the Pope doesn’t understand the “danger” of having an open border with Mexico and suggested that Mexico’s leaders “seduced” the Pope into the Mass in order to keep the border the way it is, “because they’re making a fortune, and we’re losing.”

In addition to his comments about Pope Francis, Trump has repeatedly made offensive remarks toward immigrants and said he would make Mexico pay for the wall.

In a June 28 interview with CNN, Trump suggested that, should he be elected, he would build a 1,553-foot-long wall along the border because, in his opinion, “a wall is needed in certain areas.”

He said that Mexico “makes a fortune” off the U.S. and that a wall “is a tiny little peanut compared to that. I would do something very severe unless they contributed or gave us the money to build the wall.”

In his comments to journalists onboard the papal plane, Pope Francis jested, saying he is grateful to have been called a politician, since Aristotle defined the human person as animal politicus, meaning, “a political animal.”

“At least I am a human person,” he said, adding that, as for being a pawn of the Mexican government, he’ll leave that “up to your judgment and that of the people.”

While he can’t tell anyone who to vote for, Francis said that what he can say is that “this man is not Christian if he has said things like that.” The Pope said that he would have to see if Trump really said things the way he did, but that, in the meantime, he’s willing to give him “the benefit of the doubt.”

On Wednesday, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi responded to Trump’s criticism of the Pope’s sympathy toward immigrants, calling the presidential candidate’s remarks “very strange” and suggesting that he get more perspective.

“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.

He noted that Pope Francis frequently makes similar remarks to leaders across Europe, which is something Trump would know “if he came to Europe.”

Before his final Mass in Mexico, the Pope prayed at the border. He also addressed the border crisis in his homily: “The human tragedy that is forced migration is a global phenomenon today. This crisis, which can be measured in numbers and statistics, we want instead to measure with names, stories and families. They are the brothers and sisters of those excluded as a result of poverty and violence, drug trafficking and criminal organizations.”

Earlier in his trip, the Holy Father exhorted Mexico to create opportunities and safety for its people so that there would not be a need to migrate.