The controversy surrounding Pope Francis’ off-the-cuff statements on his return flight from Mexico – and Donald Trump’s response – should not overshadow the underlying reason for the papal visit, said Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles.
The archbishop said that Pope Francis’ Feb. 12-17 Mexico visit was “a very emotional week” that tried “to bring a word of hope and mercy to some of the poorest and most oppressed people in this hemisphere.”
“That’s what the Pope was saying – that immigration is about people, not economics or politics. It’s about children and families who are suffering,” he said.
“The Pope was obviously deeply moved by the human tragedy of millions of people suffering from the corruption of leaders, criminal gangs, human trafficking, violence and poverty, economic injustice,” he said Feb. 19. “That’s what the Pope is thinking about – not our election debates or candidates.”
On a Feb. 18 in-flight interview, a journalist asked Pope Francis to respond to the positions and claims of leading Republican presidential Donald Trump, who has characterized the Pope as a “pawn” for the Mexican government.
“Trump said that if he’s elected, he wants to build 2,500 kilometers of wall along the border. He wants to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, separating families, etc.,” the journalist said, asking for the Pope’s response.
Pope Francis responded, saying, “As to whether I am a pawn, well, maybe, I don't know. I'll leave that up to your judgment and that of the people. And then, 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 he would not get involved in the question of who someone should vote for, adding, “I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.”
In a Feb. 18 reaction, Trump claimed that the Mexican government “has made many disparaging remarks about me to the Pope, because they want to continue to rip off the United States.”
“The Pope only heard one side of the story – he didn’t see the crime, the drug trafficking and the negative economic impact the current policies have on the United States,” he said.
Trump also portrayed the Pope’s comments as questioning his integrity.
“For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful,” he said. “I am proud to be a Christian and as President I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened.”
“No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith,” Trump said, repeating his claim that the Pope is being used as a pawn.
Archbishop Gomez reflected on the general reaction to the Pope’s comments.
“Pope Francis was asked a provocative question and unfortunately it resulted in a media controversy. But it’s important to remember that the Holy Father is a pastor, not a politician. And when he speaks, he speaks always as a pastor, not as a politician.”
“From a pastor’s perspective, immigration is a humanitarian crisis,” the archbishop said. “And a good pastor calls us to conversion, to greater compassion and empathy for those who are vulnerable and weak.”
Archbishop Gomez acknowledged the need for secure borders as “the duty of a sovereign nation.”
“But we also have a duty – as human beings and as Christians – to respond with compassion to those in need.”
“We have families broken and hurting on both sides of the border and we have at least 11 million people living within our borders who are living as an almost permanent underclass, without rights or hopes for a better future.”
“As Christians, we need to help these people somehow – no matter where they come from, no matter how they got here. They are mothers, fathers, children, grandparents. They are all our brothers and sisters.”