Amid controversy over President Trump’s immigration executive order barring travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries, Pope Francis on Wednesday echoed his previous comments about building bridges of understanding instead of walls, according to the Associated Press.
He made the comments during a weekly address Wednesday that coincided with the “International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking” and the feast day of Sudanese immigrant Saint Josephine Margaret Bakhita.
“In the social and civil context as well, I appeal not to create walls, but to build bridges,” he said, according to the AP. “To not respond to evil with evil. To defeat evil with good, the offense with forgiveness. A Christian would never say ‘you will pay for that.’ Never.
“That is not a Christian gesture,” he continued. “An offense you overcome with forgiveness. To live in peace with everyone.”
In strongly worded statements, several prominent U.S. Catholic leaders denounced Trump’s executive order. Although Pope Francis did not directly address the president’s recent actions, he has made the same point in the past.
After Trump declared during his presidential campaign that he would deport millions of undocumented immigrants and build a wall along the border between Mexico and the United States, Francis denounced the wall idea, telling reporters on board the papal plane that anyone who wanted to build a wall “is not Christian.”
“A person who thinks only about building walls — wherever they may be — and not building bridges, is not Christian,” he said in February, according to an AP translation. “This is not in the Gospel.”
“I’d just say that this man is not Christian if he said it this way,” he added.
The Vatican later said the remarks were not a personal attack on Trump.
“It is not that the pope wishes to be, in any way, a personal attack nor an indication of voting,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told Vatican Radio, according to a translation from the Vatican’s press office.
Lombardi said at the time the pope believes people “should not build walls, but bridges” — which is “very consistent with what is a courageous following of the gospel of welcome and solidarity.”
As The Washington Post’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey reported, weeks before the presidential election, Francis again spoke out against inciting fear and building walls during a meeting with participants in a group of grass-roots organizations called Third World Meeting of Popular Movements, and he urged political leaders to act.
“No tyranny can be sustained without exploiting our fears,” Francis said, according to Vatican Radio’s translation. “Citizens are walled-up, terrified, on one side; on the other side, even more terrified, are the excluded and banished.”
Fear “is fed and manipulated,” he added.
“Because fear — as well as being a good deal for the merchants of arms and death — weakens and destabilizes us, destroys our psychological and spiritual defenses, numbs us to the suffering of others, and in the end it makes us cruel.”
Francis said he believes that mercy is the “best antidote” to fear — and is “much more effective than walls, iron bars, alarms and weapons. And it is free,” according to the Catholic News Service.
During his audience at the Vatican, Pope Francis urged government leaders to help combat human trafficking.
Wednesday marked a time for prayer and action against human rights crimes, as well as remembrance for the Sudanese saint.
“I urge all those in government positions to combat this scourge with firmness, giving voice to our younger brothers and sisters who have been wounded in their dignity,” Francis said, according to Vatican Radio. “All efforts must be made to eradicate this shameful and intolerable crime.”
Saint Josephine Bakhita “was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery in Sudan and Italy,” the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops explained. “Once Josephine was freed, she became a Canossian nun and dedicated her life to sharing her testament of deliverance from slavery and comforting the poor and suffering. She was declared a Saint in 2000.” The pope said the “enslaved, exploited and humiliated girl in Africa never lost hope” but “persevered in her faith and ended up as a migrant in Europe where she heard the call of the Lord and became a nun.”
“Let’s pray to Saint Josephine Bakhita for all migrants and refugees who are exploited and suffer so much,” the pope said.