Panama City—Pope Francis told thousands of Catholics in Panama gathered for World Youth Day that “builders of walls sow fear” and “divide people.”
Taking another shot at wall-building politicians, the Pope railed on Friday against the marginalization of convicts and others who society has deemed “sinners,” and staunchly defended migrants as he joined hundreds of thousands of young Catholics in Panama.
“We know that the father of lies, the devil, prefers a community divided and bickering,” Francis told a crowd of tens of thousands of youth Thursday night at a seaside park in Panama City.
“This is the criteria to divide people: The builders of bridges and the builders of walls, those builders of walls sow fear and look to divide people. What do you want to be?”
When the crowd replied, “builders of bridges,” Francis replied, “You learned well. I like that.”
In a swipe at US President Donald Trump’s plans to build a border wall against Central American migrants, the pope told hundreds of thousands of young pilgrims that it was “senseless” to condemn every immigrant “as a threat to society.”
On Wednesday, after Trump tweeted a new slogan, “Build a wall and crime will fall,” a journalist on the papal plane asked Pope Francis about Trump’s proposal.
The Pope said such measures are driven by fear. “It is the fear that makes us crazy.”
The Argentine pontiff was speaking at the end of a solemn ceremony commemorating Christ’s Crucifixion, which drew the largest crowd of pilgrims of his five-day visit.
The organizers said the Way of the Cross ceremony drew 400,000 pilgrims to hear the pope at a park in Panama City. The World Youth Day committee say 110,000 people had officially registered for the six-day event, which ends on Sunday.
The Vatican faced questions Friday over why the pope, who addressed hundreds of Central American bishops the day before, had not taken the opportunity to speak out against the scourge of clergy sex abuse afflicting the Church.
His spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said that it was never far from Francis’ mind because the Church was under “incredible pressure.”
But it was “not necessary” the Pope should raise the issue at every gathering of bishops or of young people, he said.
Gisotti said next month’s meeting of leading bishops in Rome would be a unique chance to provide them with “concrete measures” to tackle the “terrible plague.”
In his evening homily, Francis returned to his theme of defending migrants during this visit to Central America, the hub for migrant caravans heading north through Mexico to the US border.
The Church wanted to foster a culture “that welcomes, protects, promotes and integrates, that does not stigmatize, much less indulge in a senseless and irresponsible condemnation of every immigrant as a threat to society.”
The pope has previously spoken out against the “fears and suspicions” of migrants during his trip.
In the crowd was 23-year-old Honduran student Wiston Medina. “Many of my friends have lost their jobs and gone to the United States. Everyone in Honduras has family in the US, they left looking for a better future.”
In his speech, the pope said Jesus approached and engaged with sinners, “even putting his reputation at risk.”
He told them they were not defined by the labels society had given them, as offenders.
“Keep fighting, all of you, to seek and find the paths of integration and transformation.”