"Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism."
—Hubert Horatio Humphrey, A Remark
It’s no one’s fault but it does pose something of a dilemma for citizens trying to impart meaning to current events.
The dilemma presented itself shortly after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was interviewed on The Christian Broadcast Network. The interview took place a few days after Mr. Trump had said it was time to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. During the interview, Mr. Pompeo was asked: “Could it be that President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this... to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace?” A beaming Pompeo responded: “As a Christian, I certainly believe that’s possible,” and he continued by saying he was “confident that the Lord is at work here.”
Although Mr. Pompeo was referring to Mr. Trump’s comments about the Golan Heights, it seems obvious that if God had raised Mr. Trump to take that action, as Mr. Pompeo suggested, he would not have cut him loose with respect to his other activities.
And that brings us then, to the question for this week. Is God making his wishes known through Mr. Trump, or, through Pope Francis? The question is presented because both men addressed similar problems during the last week of March, and had quite different ideas as to how they should be addressed. The problem the two men confronted was immigrants crossing borders.
On March 29, 2019, Mr. Trump announced steps he intended to take to deal with the thousands of immigrants seeking to enter the United States on its southern border. He believed it necessary to announce the new steps because of the unfavorable publicity he was receiving for his treatment of those seeking to enter the United States. Most notable, at the time of his declaration, was the fact that the United States was holding hundreds of men, women, and children who were fleeing terrible conditions in their home countries under a bridge in El Paso, Texas, an enclosure surrounded by fencing and razor wire. According to reports of conditions under the bridge, children were forced to sleep on gravel covered with trash, and they and the adults were sleeping outdoors as nighttime temperatures were as low as 40 degrees. In some instances, the detainees were deprived of sleep, access to medical care, and adequate food and water. Conditions for thousands of other immigrants, though not housed under a bridge, were hardly better.
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Mr. Trump attributed the need to impose those conditions on immigrants, to the lack of a border wall to keep the immigrants out. And since there is no border wall and immigrants continue to come in vast numbers, he has said he will withhold aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, countries from which most of the problem immigrants are fleeing. By withholding aid to those countries, he believes, those countries will be more aggressive in restricting the flow of immigrants to the United States. Furthermore, he has often said that if there were a long, impenetrable wall along the southern border, all of the problems posed by illegal immigrants would be solved.
At the same time as Mr. Trump was announcing his proposals for addressing the problem of immigration in the United States, Pope Francis was on a trip to Morocco during which he hoped to support immigrants and establish closer ties between his Church and moderate Islam. In an address in Morocco to 10,000 people, many from sub-Saharan Africa, he told the crowd, “I encourage you to continue to let the culture of mercy grow, a culture in which no one looks at others with indifference, or averts his eyes in the face of their suffering.”
On the return trip to Rome, the Pope spoke with reporters accompanying him on the plane. In response to a reporter’s questions about steps the Spanish government was taking to keep immigrants out, the Pope responded that using barbed wire to keep out those seeking to enter Spain in search of better lives, as the Spanish government had done, was not only cruel, but “not a way to resolve the grave problem of migration.”
One reporter observed that much of Europe was responding to the Pope’s appeals to policymakers and government leaders to protect and help migrants, by doing the opposite. The Pope responded that the leaders were gripped by fear and fear is the beginning of dictatorships. He said that there is all of Europe in which to distribute migrants and it must be done with “an open heart, that accompanies, promotes and integrates.”
Addressing one of Mr. Trump’s favorite solutions to keeping out immigrants, the Pope disputed the value of building walls. He said that one of the phrases from Ivo Andrich’s novel The Bridge on the Drina had always stuck with him. It says that the bridge is made by God with the wings of angels so that men can communicate. Walls, the Pope said, are against communication and are for isolation and, as a result those who close the borders of their country to those seeking better lives “will become prisoners of the walls that they build.”
Here is the question for my readers. If God is addressing the worldwide problem of immigration, who is his spokesperson? Mr. Pompeo’s Trump or Pope Francis?