Is the Pope the anti-Trump?

One emerged from a crisis conclave, the other was elected after the strangest campaign in recent American history. Both have upended traditions and reached outside the usual channels to speak to the concerns of ordinary people.

Donald J. Trump and Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the president and the pope, are the world’s most famous populists. But they are in conflict.

To grasp why Pope Francis has become the flag-bearer of the global anti-Trump resistance, consider his Feb. 17 appearance at a university campus in Rome, where one of the students who asked him a question was a Syrian woman, Nour Essa.

The pope knew her well. Hers was one of three families, all Muslim, he had brought back with him on the return flight from his visit to a refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece. He has helped dozens of refugees make new lives in Italy.

Two families live in the Vatican itself, whose high walls and fortress features are these days at odds with the border-dissolving pope within.

In the courtyard of the university, Roma Tre, where Ms. Essa has won a scholarship to study biology, she asked Francis to respond to Europeans who believe migrants threaten the continent’s Christian culture.

Migration, he told her, is not a danger but a challenge, a spur to growth that has expanded Europe’s culture, not weakened it.

“When there is this welcoming, accompaniment, integration, there’s no danger with immigration,” he said. “A culture is received and another offered. This is my response to fear.”

The pope’s populism is not intended for popularity — a fickle thing, and anyhow, his soars far above any politician’s — but proximity. This is a pope who likes to come in close.

As Europe’s borders stiffen and nativist movements gain footholds in elections, such bold assertions of universal humanity, backed by action, have made Francis a bridge maker in an age of wall building.

In part because he anticipated the current political crisis long before it happened, his Greek-chorus commentary on the upheavals matters. Continue reading

  • Austen Ivereigh is the author of “The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope” and a contributing editor for the Catholic news site Crux.


Additional reading

News category: Analysis and Comment.

Tags: , ,