The spat between His Holiness Pope Francis and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump appears to have ended. The unholy brouhaha began when Trump, speaking on Fox Business Network’s “Varney & Co.”, called the pontiff “a very political person” who didn’t understand the dangers an open border with Mexico posed to the US. “I think Mexico got him to do it,” claimed Trump, “because they want to keep the border just the way it is.”
The pope pushed back by calling Trump’s profession of Christian faith into question, averring that “a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian.” Trump, in turn, called the pope’s questioning of his faith “disgraceful.” Realizing that a fight with the pope would not likely endear him to Catholic voters, Trump has since assured everyone that he actually has great respect for the pope.
Pope Francis, to quote ‘the Donald’, is “a very political person.” Just how political is the pontiff? On the last night of his visit to Mexico, the pope, hoping to influence the outcome of the upcoming US presidential election (what other explanation could there be?) turned the celebration of the Catholic Mass into a piece of political theatre. On the evening of 17 February, the pope, accompanied by some 200,000 people, gathered on the southern shore of the Rio Grande River across from the city of El Paso, Texas, for an open-air mass. On the US side of the river stood about four hundred or so. During the ceremony on the Mexican side, the pope laid flowers on a memorial dedicated to those who had perished trying to reach the US. He lamented “the forced migration” of thousands of Central Americans. As the pope well knows, what to do about the US-Mexican border is a huge issue in the 2016 election. Deliberately injecting himself into the debate as he has done, the pope made it clear where he stands.
How political is the pope? In 2014, the pope wrote a letter to Pres. Obama, urging the president to pursue a closer relationship with Cuba and to ease the trade restrictions imposed on the island by the US after Fidel Castro’s Communist Revolution. Pope Francis, who acted as mediator between the US and Cuba throughout 18 months of secret negotiations, can be credited with the recent restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries. (Interestingly, the Holy See never broke off relations with Cuba even after Castro imprisoned or exiled the priests and confiscated all Catholic property on the island.) In protesting the economic embargo imposed by the US, the Cuban people knew they had an ally in the Vatican, which had always objected to the embargo on the grounds that impacted most adversely Cuba’s poor.
Overcome with gratitude for the economic lifeline Pope Francis has thrown him, Raul Castro gushed on a recent visit to the Vatican: “If the pope continues to speak like this, sooner or later I will start praying again and I will return to the Catholic church–and I’m not saying this jokingly.” A new Catholic Church is slated to be built on the island at Sandino, the first one since the 1959 Revolution. Strangely enough, since the restoration of diplomatic relations with the US, the number of imprisoned dissidents has reached the highest level in five years.
How political is the pope? Probably the pope’s greatest political achievement since assuming St. Peter’s Throne has been the historic meeting between him and His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, head of Russia’s Orthodox Church, which took place on 12 February at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba. This was the first meeting between a Catholic pope and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church since the Great Schism of 1054. This was not a political meeting, however, the pope claimed: the purpose of the meeting was for the two branches of the church to deal jointly with the dire problem of persecuted Christians in the Middle East. The pope might have not regarded their meeting as political, but it was nevertheless.
Photo from Asia News .it 01/27/2016
The meeting could never have taken place if Russian President Putin had not first given the patriarch the ‘green light’ to attend. His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, the first patriarch since the breakup of the USSR, is closer to the Kremlin than any of his predecessors, even to calling Putin a “miracle from God.” [I wrote about the unusually close relationship between Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church in a previous blog (2 January 2015).] The pope’s meeting with the saintly-looking Russian patriarch (rumoured to be, like Putin, a former KGB officer) helped to restore–somewhat–the image of Putin’s Russia in the West.
Trump was correct when he called Pope Francis a very political person. How does one account for the pope’s political activism? The answer is: Latin American liberation theology aka ‘Christian’ Marxism. Liberation theology puts social action on an equal footing with the gospel message. In the eyes of the Argentine pope, someone who would build a wall to keep migrants out is not a Christian.
Is Trump a Christian? When it comes to determining who is or is not a Christian, it is not our place to judge, but, as the saying goes, that doesn’t mean we can’t be ‘fruit inspectors’.