Donald Trump calls Pope 'disgraceful' after questioning his Christian faith
New York business man 'surprised' at Pontiff's comments
Pope Francis has branded Donald Trump's plan to build a wall along the American border with Mexico as "unchristian" with the American presidential hopeful retaliating by describing the pontiff's comments as "disgraceful".
The Pontiff was speaking at the end of a five-day visit to Mexico.
Donald J. Trump responds to Pope Francis' remarks: "I'm a very good Christian...he's questioning my faith and I was very surprised to see it." abcn.ws/1SUzhlXPosted by ABC News on Thursday, 18 February 2016
New York businessman Trump supports deporting nearly 11million undocumented immigrants and said that Mexico exported "rapists and criminals" to America.
Pope Francis, when asked what he thought of Mr Trump's campaign pledge to build a wall along the entire length of the border and expel millions of people in the US illegally, said: "A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel."
Mr Trump hit back ferociously, saying it was "disgraceful" for a religious leader to question a person's faith.
The Presbyterian and the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, responded within minutes.
"The Pope is being told that Donald Trump is not a nice person," he said.
"Donald Trump is a very nice person and I'm a very good Christian. I was surprised to see him question my faith, but I am a Christian and I am proud of it."
The rare back-and-forth between pontiff and presidential candidate was the latest development in an American election already roiled by Trump's rhetoric and controversial policy proposals, particularly on immigration.
It also underscored the pope's willingness to wade in on controversial issues.
Mr Trump also raised the prospect of the Islamic State extremist group attacking the Vatican, saying that if that happened, "the pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president because this would not have happened".
Later he retweeted a series of tweets from people showing the wall around the Vatican.
The billionaire businessman said later that he was "totally respectful" of the pope but stood by his initial response.
Francis, the first pope from Latin America, has been a vocal proponent of compassionate immigration policies.
While Trump's rhetoric has been among the most inflammatory, some of his rivals have staked out similar enforcement positions. Texas Sen Ted Cruz and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson are among those who have explicitly called for construction of a wall.
Former Florida Gov Jeb Bush, one of the few GOP candidates proposing a path to legal status for people already in the US illegally, said Thursday that he supports "walls and fencing where it's appropriate."
Mr Bush said that while he gets his guidance "as a Catholic" from the pope, he doesn't take his cues from Francis on "economic or environmental policy".
Marco Rubio, another Catholic seeking the GOP nomination, said that Vatican City has a right to control its borders and so does the United States.
Mr Rubio said he has "tremendous respect and admiration" for the pope, but he added, "There's no nation on Earth that's more compassionate on immigration than we are."
Even before Thursday's exchange, Mr Trump had been critical of Francis's visit to Mexico. He said last week that the pope's plans to pray at the border showed he was a political figure being exploited by the Mexican government.
Francis glossed over the assertion that he was a pawn of Mexico, telling reporters on his plane that he would "leave that up to your judgment."
During his visit to Mexico, the Pope also told bishops to get closer to their flock and ease their suffering, and visited some of the country's poorest and most violent areas to shine a spotlight on residents' harsh reality.
Francis also aimed another message north of the border at a time of increasingly tough presidential campaign rhetoric on immigration in the US.
The pope appealed for governments to open their hearts to the "human tragedy" of forced migration, imploring: "No more death! No more exploitation!"
Francis stopped short of calling outright for the US to open its borders, but he urged recognition that the multitudes fleeing gangland killings and extortion in their homelands are victims.
"We cannot deny the humanitarian crisis which in recent years has meant the migration of thousands of people, whether by train or highway or on foot, crossing hundreds of kilometres through mountains, deserts and inhospitable zones," he said.
"They are our brothers and sisters, who are being expelled by poverty and violence, drug trafficking and organised crime."
Before the Mass, Francis paused at the border for a silent prayer in memory of migrants who died trying to reach the US.
He also blessed several hundred migrants sitting on the other side of the fence.
It was the most poignant moment of his trip, but he began to turn heads even before his plane touched down in Mexico.
Flying in from the Vatican on Friday, he first landed in Havana for a historic meeting and embrace with Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, the first such encounter since the schism that divided Christianity a millennium ago.