Putting campaign rhetoric behind him, Trump will come face to face with the pope

After stops in Saudi Arabia and Israel, President Trump’s first foreign trip will bring him to the Vatican — and face to face with a notable sparring opponent from his campaign.

Wednesday Trump will meet with Pope Francis, his first encounter with the head of the Roman Catholic Church. During the campaign, Trump called a statement by Francis “disgraceful.”

“If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS,” said Trump in a February 2016 statement, which has been deleted from his website, “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.”

The harsh statement was in response to Francis’s comments that Trump’s proposal to build a wall between the United States and Mexico was not Christian.

“A person who only thinks about building walls,“ said Francis on a February 2016 flight returning to the Vatican from Mexico City, “wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. That is not in the gospel.”

Trump suggested that the Mexican government had swayed Francis against him with “disparaging remarks.”

“For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful,” continued Trump. “I am proud to be a Christian and as President I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened, unlike what is happening now, with our current President. [The Mexican government is] using the Pope as a pawn and they should be ashamed of themselves for doing so, especially when so many lives are involved and when illegal immigration is so rampant.”

Pope Francis gestures during a meeting with the media onboard the papal plane while en route to Rome, Italy February 17, 2016. (Alessandro Di Meo/Pool/Reuters)
Pope Francis gestures during a meeting with the media onboard the papal plane while en route to Rome, Italy February 17, 2016. (Alessandro Di Meo/Pool/Reuters)

The Vatican said that the comments were not a “personal attack,” but in comments made prior to November’s election Francis seemingly spoke out against Trump’s presidential platform without mentioning the candidate by name.

“No tyranny finds support without tapping into our fears,” said Francis. “This is key. Hence, all tyranny is terrorist. And when this terror — which was sown in the peripheries, with the massacres, looting, oppression and injustice — explodes in centers with different forms of violence, even hateful and cowardly attacks, citizens who still retain some rights are tempted to the false security of physical or social walls.”

Continuing, in a speech that he delivered in Spanish, Francis spoke of “Walls that enclose some and banish others. Walled citizens, terrified on one side, excluded, exiled, and still more terrified on the other. Is that the life that our Father God wants for their children? Dear brothers and sisters — all walls fall. All of them. Do not be fooled.”

When Francis was elected in 2013, Trump was supportive, tweeting “The new Pope is a humble man, very much like me, which probably explains why I like him so much!”

In his weekly address released last Friday, Trump said that he was looking forward to the “great honor” of an audience with Francis.

“I look forward to speaking with the pope about how Christian teachings can help put the world on a path to justice, freedom, and peace,” said Trump.

President Trump and Pope Francis. (Photos: Evan Vucci/AP, Andrew Medichini/AP)
President Trump and Pope Francis. (Photos: Evan Vucci/AP, Andrew Medichini/AP)

A potential point of conflict between the two could be Syrian refugees, as the Vatican’s settling of families from the war-torn nation contrasts starkly with the White House’s original executive order on immigration, which would have completely halted immigration from Syria, including refugees. Trump and the pope are also on opposite sides of climate change, with Francis a full supporter of the Paris Agreement. Trump has suggested he might pull the United States out of the accord.

Slideshow: President Trump’s first trip abroad >>>

Potential areas of common ground the two heads of state could settle on include supporting religious freedom and peace in the Middle East while jointly opposing human trafficking and abortion.

Trump has his own history of questioning the religion of others. His 2016 attack on the pope came a week after he himself questioned the faith of Senator Ted Cruz, who at the time was his primary rival for the GOP nomination.

“How can Ted Cruz be an Evangelical Christian when he lies so much and is so dishonest?” tweeted Trump.

Trump had previously told a crowd at a rally that “not too many evangelicals come out of Cuba,” the birthplace of Cruz’s father. Trump also repeatedly suggested that President Barack Obama was Muslim as part of spreading the birther conspiracy about him.

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