Photo credit: David Wallace/The Arizona Republic, via Associated Press
By Jim Yardley
In the cage fight of American presidential politics, the matchup is irresistible: Pope Francis, leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, the pope of the poor who has knelt to wash the feet of prisoners and Muslims, versus Donald J. Trump, billionaire Republican who disparages Muslims and kneels to no one.
When Francis suggested that Mr. Trump “is not Christian” in answering a reporter’s question during his return flight from Mexico, the Latin American pope not only served up red meat for global headline writers (“Francis Excommunicates Trump,” declared La Stampa in Italy), but again demonstrated his knack for sticking his nose into putatively secular affairs. His flap with Mr. Trump is about immigration, and to Francis the issue transcends any campaign cycle.
From the first days of his papacy, when he insisted on paying his hotel bill himself, Francis has understood the power of a gesture, and of a global spotlight available to any pope capable of using it. The pontiff who made a politically charged visit to the United States-Mexico border on Wednesday is the same one who in 2014 stopped in Bethlehem to pray at the graffiti-covered wall dividing the Palestinian city from Israeli-controlled Jerusalem.
His critics in the United States, many of them conservative Catholics, argue that Francis is a “political pope” pursuing a leftist agenda that castigates capitalism and environmental degradation. Even before Francis’s remarks about him, Mr. Trump had criticized the pope as “a political person” and accused him of visiting the border as a favor to the Mexican government.
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