, the son of Billy Graham and a famed evangelical preacher in his own right, has called on Pope Francis to “build a bridge” to Donald Trump, the leading presidential contender and presumptive victor in the South Carolina GOP primary on Feb. 20.
This came in the wake of a kerfluffle when on Feb. 18, media widely reported that Pope Francis had said that Trump is not Christian because of the candidate’s vow to build a security wall between the United States and Mexico in order to stem illegal immigration. The pope said, “A person who thinks only about building walls wherever they may be and not building bridges is not Christian.”
In response, Trump said on Feb. 19, “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 because this would not have happened. ISIS would have been eradicated unlike what is happening now with our all talk, no action politicians.”
"No leader, especially a religious leader,” said Trump about the pope’s reported remarks, “should have the right to question another man's religion or faith.” Trump added that the Mexican government has made a number of “disparaging remarks” about him to the pontiff. The pope’s remarks were “disgraceful,” said Trump.
Later on, after media outlets pushed the narrative of the pope attacking him, Trump said "I don't like fighting with the Pope." Speaking at a GOP town hall hosted in South Carolina by CNN, he said "I like his personality; I like what he represents." Moreover, Trump said that the media misrepresented the pope’s remarks, which he said were "much nicer" than reported.
, evangelist Graham wrote, “I agree that as Christians we should try to build bridges with everyone that we possibly can, but that doesn’t mean that we should compromise our national security.”
Preacher Graham pointed out that the other GOP candidates also favor building a wall, as do “millions of Americans,” to protect the country from “enemies who want to use the U.S./Mexican border as a way to enter our country and do us harm.” Referring to Trump’s fellow Republican candidate, Graham asked “Are they not Christian either? My advice to the Pontiff—reach out and build a bridge to Donald Trump. Who knows where he may be this time next year!”
While winging his way back to Rome after a pastoral visit to Mexico, where he called on the U.S. to address the "humanitarian crisis" on the border, the pope answered reporters who asked his opinions on Trump’s plan for buttressing the border wall. "A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel." In the exchange, the pope did not mention Trump by name nor did he urge Catholics to refrain from voting for the lead Republican candidate.
When asked whether Catholics in the United States should vote for Trump, the pope answered, "As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that." CNN reported that the pontiff “appeared somewhat unaware of Trump's exact stance on illegal immigration,” and quoted him to say that he would give Trump “the benefit of the doubt" until he hears exactly what the candidate has to say.
On the eve of the South Carolina GOP primary, pundits are wondering about the possible effect that the pope's remarks might have on its outcome. “Unless the pope knows Donald Trump and knows what his personal beliefs are, then the pope wouldn’t have any idea whether he’s a Christian or not,” said David Lane, according to Politico. Lane is an influential evangelical leader. Lane added, “It makes the pope look foolish, from my standpoint. This may actually help Trump.”