A surprise, public spat that surfaced within the last 24 hours between Pope Francis and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump appears to be quickly de-escalating. When, on a papal plane ride back from Mexico to Italy with reporters, Pope Francis said Trump is "not Christian" if he wants to build a wall along the United States-Mexico border, Trump called the pontiff's comments about him "disgraceful." But by Thursday evening, the GOP front-runner was uncharacteristically backing off of the hot topic, saying he would meet with the Pope "anytime he wants."
Trump stepping away from the forefront of defending his degree of faith and Christian integrity came today while Dallas-based Pastor Robert Jeffress, of First Baptist, told Fox News this afternoon that Francis should ask Trump for forgiveness.
"The pope needs to ask for Donald Trump's forgiveness for saying such an outlandish thing," Jeffress proclaimed.
"I do have to hand it to the pope. He performed a miracle today. He has done what nobody in history's been able to do: He has turned Donald Trump into a martyr," Jeffress said. And I believe because of that, Trump's poll numbers are going to continue to go up, because as much as people respect the pope, they don't want the pope inserting himself in the American election, and they sure don't want to be taking advice from the pope on American security."
Trump blamed the day's drama on press representatives, saying he didn't think it is a fight. "I think he [the Pope] said something much softer than was originally reported by the media."
"I don't like fighting with the Pope," Trump said at a GOP town hall in South Carolina hosted by CNN. "I like his personality; I like what he represents."
On Friday, a Vatican spokesman said that, although the reporter at the papal press conference asked Francis specifically about Trump, the Pope's answer should be interpreted more generally, reports CNN.
"It didn't intend to be in any way a personal attack nor an indication in how to vote," the Rev. Federico Lombardi told Vatican Radio.
Lombardi also noted that the Pope said he was not sure exactly what Trump had said about illegal immigration and "would give him the benefit of the doubt" until he did.
Trump's campaign has contained confrontations with many people, from Fox News' Megyn Kelly to GOP opponent Jeb Bush, so some people were surprised at his shift with the Pope, saying the obvious answer is that he doesn't want to alienate Catholic voters, who make up about 20 percent of the American electorate and likely don't want to see politicians pontificating about their Pope.
As a fellow political leader, Francis heads a sovereign state, Vatican City, and meets regularly with world powers. When Francis made his comments about Trump's stance on illegal immigration, he was returning from Mexico, where he met with government leaders, including President Enrique Peña Nieto. Many weren't surprised that Francis' perspective on Trump's proposal to deport undocumented immigrants and build a big wall between the United States and Mexico wouldn't be supportive