Gianni Valente/ Vatican City
President-elect of the United States Donald Trump has dedicated some telling - albeit few in number - tweets, frequently changing his tone. Among them is a declaration of admiration which refers to humility as the alleged “common denominator” between Francis and himself.
How is Pope Francis’ relationship with Trump going to unfold? This is one of the question marks over the new US Administration under President-elect Donald Trump. Everyone will recall the sparks that flew between Trump and the Bishop of Rome over the issue of the ant-immigration wall, when Francis celebrated Mass just metres away from the US-Mexican border. But there are other lesser-known remarks which the US’ next “Commander in Chief” addressed to the current Successor of Peter on Twitter. A mixed bag of opinions and comments, which even included a declaration of admiration which refers to humility as the alleged “common denominator” between Pope Francis and himself.
So far, the incident that occurred during Francis’ visit to Mexico last February, seems to provide the basis for predicting the nature of the Pope’s future relations with the President-elect. Trump picked a fight during an interview with Fox television; when asked to comment on the Mass Francis was due to celebrate with migrants in Ciudad Juarez and El Paso (Texas), he referred to the Pope as “a very political person” who “doesn't understand the problems our country has” nor “the danger of the open border that we have with Mexico”. He also emphasised that, in his opinion, Mexico had “got him to do it (to celebrate mass in Ciudad Juarez, Ed.). Because Mexico wants to keep the border just the way it is because they are making a fortune and we are losing”.
On the return flight to Rome, the Pope was very frank in his remarks about the opinions Trump had expressed, stating that “a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian”. Trump’s media response was that “for a religious leader to question a person's faith is disgraceful”. Referring to a hypothetical jihadist attack on the Vatican, he retorted: “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 sheer thought of an imminent clash between the world’s most powerful political leader and the Bishop of Rome is already tickling the conditioned reflexes of the global media system. But Obama’s successor had already voiced various thoughts and opinions regarding Francis way before the words exchanged via the media last February. Trump’s comments began right from the moment Bergoglio was elected Pope. A string of clichés, boutades and declarations about how different the Pope’s “style” was to his but also expressions of respect.
Trump began in the early hours of March 14, 2013, just hours after the Conclave had taken place, expressing the usual wishes “to my Catholic friends on the selection of Pope Francis I to lead the Catholic Church. People that know him love him!” Just days later, he turned his nose up at Pope Francis decision on the first day of his pontificate to go and settle his hotel bill at the “Domus” in Rome’s Via della Scrofa: “I don't like seeing the Pope standing at the checkout counter (front desk) of a hotel in order to pay his bill. It's not Pope-like!” Trump tweeted on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 19, the day on which the Pope celebrated Mass for the inauguration of his pontificate. In response to those who pointed out that the Pope, unlike Trump, did not feel the need to boast about how great he was, the future President joked: “That’s why I’ll never be Pope!” But it was on first Christmas of Francis’ pontificate, in the magical atmosphere of New York, full of festive lights and goodwill, that Trump found the right words to express his fascination with the Bishop of Rome, but the reason he gave added an unexpected twist: “The new Pope is a humble man, very much like me, which probably explains why I like him so much!” This affectionate remark about the Pope garnered over 5000 retweets.
Trump’s tweets about Pope Francis are not just the alleged points in common and differences between the two. In April 2014, the presidential elections were still a long way off. Perhaps Trump had already considered running for President, who knows. In the meantime, he was having some fun on Twitter too and in the midst of his swashbuckling social media adventures, he decided to drag in Pope Francis. He was asked who would be his dream guest on The Celebrity Apprentice, an American television show which he himself hosted and has been broadcast on NBC since 2008. He drily responded: “The Pope!”
In actual fact, the US President-elect took an interest in Vatican affairs even before Pope Francis came along. He even commented on Benedict XVI’s decision to resign from the papacy, expressing his thorough disapproval in his usual rough and frank manner: “The Pope should not have resigned—he should have lived it out. It hurts him, it hurts the church...”