Rome — Pope Francis' questioning of U.S. Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump's Christianity in a press conference was not a personal attack on the candidate, Vatican spokesman Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi has said.
Lombardi told Vatican Radio Friday that the pope's remarks were simply a restatement of his frequently voiced views that migrants deserve respect and dignity and should be treated fairly.
"In no way was this a personal attack, nor an indication of how to vote," said Lombardi.
Francis, Lombardi said, believes that people "should build bridges, not walls."
"This is his general view, which is very consistent with courageously following the indications of the Gospel on offering welcome and solidarity," said the spokesman.
In a press conference Wednesday aboard the papal flight to Rome following his six-day trip to Mexico, Francis said that Trump's plans to build a wall across the entire U.S.-Mexican border and to deport immigrants has no basis in the Gospel.
The pontiff was specifically asked to respond to Trump's allegation last week that his decision to celebrate Mass in Ciudad Juarez near the border during his Mexico trip made him a political pawn of the Mexican state.
"Thank God that he said I am political because Aristotle defines the human person as animal politicus (political animal)," the pope quipped. "At least I am human!"
"Am I a pawn?" Francis asked. "Maybe. I don't know. I'll leave the judgment to you, to the people."
"A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges is not Christian," said the pontiff. "This is not in the Gospel."
Trump originally responded to Francis' comments on the papal plane with a three paragraph statement Thursday in which he claimed the Vatican would be attacked by the so-called Islamic State and said: "For a religious leader to question a person's faith is disgraceful."
On Friday, however, the presidential frontrunner softened his tone while speaking on CNN.
"I don't like fighting with the pope actually," he said. "I don't think it's a fight, I think he said something much softer than originally reported by the media."
Francis was asked in the press conference Wednesday for his reaction to Trump's proposal of a border wall, and what he might say to U.S. Catholics supporting Trump. The pope said he was "not going to get involved" in giving advice about voting.
"I'll only say that this man is not Christian if he says this," said the pontiff. "We have to see if he said these things. And ... I give the benefit of the doubt."