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Pope Francis Is In Panama For Catholic Church's World Youth Day


Pope Francis is in Central America. He's in Panama to attend the Catholic Church's World Youth Day. While travelling, the pope was asked about the wall that President Trump wants to build on the border with Mexico. And the pope responded by saying, it is fear that makes us crazy. Ines San Martin of the Catholic news site Crux Now is travelling with the pope. And she's on the line. Welcome to the program.

INES SAN MARTIN: Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: The pope must have known when he decided to take questions from reporters that somebody was going to ask him about the wall since he was heading to Latin America.

SAN MARTIN: Yeah. Technically, at this time, the way it works is on the outbound flight to where he's going, the pope doesn't actually take questions. He just greets all of us. And we try to sneak in a question. What happened this time was an Italian journalist who was recently in Tijuana say, you know, I've seen the border. It goes all the way to the ocean - the wall that has already been built. And it's crazy. And the pope said, yes. It's fear that makes us crazy. He actually fielded questions on a lot of issues. But all of them were kind of on the quiet side.

INSKEEP: On the quiet side except for this remark - so he was responding to a view or an opinion that was expressed by an Italian journalist. Was this unusual?

SAN MARTIN: Not really because I mean, personally, for instance, I told him that an Iraqi bishop, the new archbishop of Mosul, told me that they are waiting for the pope. And the pope said, hey. I'd love to come. It's the bishop who told me not to. So it's not all that unusual that the pope has a comment to say - especially in the past, he's talked about nuclear wars. He's talked about how he will pray for the Korean peninsula. So it's just the - we journalists get together at the end of the papal greeting to exchange what he said or not. Sometimes, journalists decide that it's private. Sometimes, we share it because we want to get the story out.

INSKEEP: How does the pope's remark about the wall fit with his other statements about President Trump over the last few years?

SAN MARTIN: You kind of expect it. Although, I mean, it's worth noting that the wall the journalist was talking about had been there. It was built before the Trump administration.

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah. It's a steel fence. It goes down into the ocean at Tijuana - between Tijuana and San Diego, absolutely.

SAN MARTIN: Right. But we've heard the pope before say, he who builds walls is not a Christian. He was, of course, referring to Trump because Trump was the question. But he was also referring to what's going on across Europe. We have very Catholic countries, such as Poland, building up fences to keep migrants off the country. So it's definitely aligned to what he said with Trump before. And it's also aligned to what he said about immigration in general.

We, obviously - you know, Trump right now is in the news because he's the president of the U.S. But when it comes to Pope Francis and migration, being that he's the son of migrants himself, he's always been very - a very strong advocate to - you need - you know, we need to help these people who are fleeing hunger, violence. And when you see, you know, what's happening in Nicaragua right now - I was there in November for two weeks. I understand why people want to flee their country. The problem is, how do we deal with it? How do we address it? How do we help these people?

INSKEEP: What is the Pope's official purpose in being in Panama?

SAN MARTIN: He is attending, as I said, a Catholic event called World Youth Day, which is a youth gathering that takes place every two or three years in different cities. Last time we had it was in 2016 when he went to Krakow in Poland. That is the official reason for his visit. Obviously, one can understand that the Vatican chose Panama for various reasons, including the fact that it's often seen as a bridge between the north and the south and the west and the southern hemisphere. And he's definitely going to be talking about that during some of his speeches in the next four days.

INSKEEP: Ines San Martin is a reporter for Crux Now and is travelling with Pope Francis in Central America. Thanks so much.

SAN MARTIN: Well, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF WILLIAM TYLER'S "FAIL SAFE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.