'Pope questioning my faith is disgraceful’, says Trump
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US presidential candidate Donald Trump said on Thursday said that questioning his faith was “disgraceful” after Pope Francis labelled Trump’s call to build a wall at the Mexico border "not Christian".
Trump, who is leading the race for the Republican presidential nomination, has promised to build the wall to deal with the illegal immigration issue and said he would make the Mexican government pay for its construction.
The pope made his comments on his way home from a historic visit to Mexico. When asked by reporters about Trump's plans, the head of the Catholic Church said: "A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian."
Not having heard Trump's border plans independently, Pope Francis said he'd "give him the benefit of the doubt." But added: "I'd just say that this man is not Christian if he said it this way."
Trump reacted to the comment forcefully, saying that Pope Francis should back his campaign for the White House.
"If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS's ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president", the candidate said.
"No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man's religion or faith", Trump added.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s senior adviser Dan Scavino published a photo on Twitter of the Vatican, saying: “Amazing comments from the Pope -- considering Vatican City is 100% surrounded by massive walls.”
Rubio wades into row
Trump did back off somewhat during a town hall event on CNN, saying that the pope’s remarks were "probably a little bit nicer" than initially reported.
He said the pope has only heard one side of the story, as told by the Mexican government, and was unaware of the problems caused by what Trump claims is a porous border.
Trump added that he had great respect for Pope Francis, but repeated the dig made earlier by his adviser Scavino by adding, "He's got an awfully big wall at the Vatican".
The back-and-forth came as Republicans face the high-stakes primary in South Carolina on Saturday. Polls indicate that Trump has a large lead and in other states.
Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio has secured the coveted endorsement of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley as he tries to win over mainstream Republicans.
Addressing the pope's comments, Rubio on Thursday said Vatican City has a right to control its borders and so does the United States. Rubio previously favored a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally, but now says border security is the priority.
Rubio, a Catholic, added that he has "tremendous respect and admiration" for the Pope and that "there's no nation on earth that's more compassion on immigration than we are."
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Ohio Governor John Kasich continue to battle for a spot at the table, while retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson struggles for relevancy.
Amazing comments from the Pope- considering Vatican City is 100% surrounded by massive walls. pic.twitter.com/g3iVLDVGe5— Dan Scavino (@DanScavino) 18 Février 2016
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)