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Donald Trump v. Pope Francis in the Year of Mercy

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Donald Trump’s unseemly dust-up with His Holiness Pope Francis did not just start yesterday.

Nor were those of us who have seen this movie before in which Trump brilliantly works the media, naïve about what he was doing in engaging the Pope, whose early fall trip to the U.S., including Washington, New York and Philadelphia, garnered days’ long wall-to-wall media coverage.

To wit:

On Thursday, February 11, the day before Pope Francis traveled to Mexico, Trump said he was “a very political person” and suggested that, in celebrating Mass Wednesday near the U.S.-Mexican border, he was being used by the Mexican government. 

The Vatican press secretary Rev. Federico Lombardi responded by saying the “Pope’s concern for the human dignity of migrants and refugees is universal.”

Before the mass in Juarez, Pope Francis walked in the footsteps of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, who risk life and limb, seeking a better life in America, and, during his sermon, called out the “humanitarian crisis” that prompts citizens to flee their homeland.  

Then, came round two on Thursday, February 18. 

On his return flight from Mexico back to Rome, a reporter asked the Pope whether U.S. citizens who are Roman Catholic should vote for someone like Trump. To which he responded:

 “I thank God that he has said I am a politician, as Aristotle defined the human being as an ‘animal politicus’: at least I am a human being! And that I am a pawn … perhaps, I do not know. I will leave that to your judgment, to the people. A person who thinks only of building walls, wherever that may be, and not bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. With regard to what I would advise, to vote or not to vote: I would not like to become involved. I would say only that this man is not Christian. It is necessary to see if he has said these things, and for this reason I would give the benefit of the doubt.” 

This prompted Trump to call the Pope “disgraceful.” 

Let’s be clear, the Pope did not say Donald Trump is not “a” Christian, just not “Christian,” in his considered opinion, in this particular area, all things being equal. Like his run for the presidency in which, if he says it’s so, it’s so; by saying he’s Christian, he seems to think his every thought, word and deed is, therefore, Christian.

Memo to Trump: 

#1 – Being a Christian, “a bearer of Christ,” and acting “Christian” at all times are two different things.

#2 – Helping people discern how close they are to Christ and what separates them from Christ, is what the Pope does for a living. When a penitent confesses his sins, and lack of virtue, i.e., bad habits, to the Pope, as the intermediary of Christ, as to any priest, he has to make a considered judgment. As your second favorite book, quoting Jesus, says: “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” (John 20:23)

#3 – Following in Christ’s footsteps is the work of a lifetime and the one who does it perfectly is a “saint.”

Nobody, certainly not Pope Francis, who is a near-saint and embodiment of Christ’s humility, is suggesting Donald Trump is not “a Christian.” Rather, he is suggesting, like all living Christians, he is a work in progress. 

 And, the more of a saint one is, the more obvious it becomes how unlike Christ one is.

 Which means asking for forgiveness.

 And, forgiving.  Not seven times, but seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:21-35.)

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