Pope Francis made a thinly veiled reference to President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall on Thursday, criticizing people who build walls instead of bridges.
The pontiff, who is visiting Panama for a global Catholic youth rally, didn’t explicitly mention Trump, but made it clear that he wants young members of his flock to be the kind of people who build bridges.
“These builders of walls that sow fear are looking to divide people and box them in,” the pope said during the opening ceremony of World Youth Day in Panama City.
“What do you want to be?” Francis asked the estimated 250,000 young people assembled for the rally.
“Builders of bridges,” his audience replied, according to a video of the ceremony published on YouTube by Vatican News.
Francis, the Catholic Church’s first Latin American pope, also praised the youth for joining together for the rally, even though they come from diverse cultures and speak many different languages.
During his flight to Central America on Wednesday, Francis responded to a reporter’s question about the border wall by stating that the irrational fear of migration drives people “crazy.”
On Thursday, he urged Central American church leaders, dioceses and parishes to help the rest of society overcome its fears about migration by welcoming migrants.
“The Church, by virtue of her universality, can provide the fraternal hospitality and acceptance that can enable the communities of origin and of destination to dialogue and to help overcome fears and suspicions, and thus to consolidate the very bonds that migrations ― in the collective imagination ― threaten to break,” Francis said during a bishops’ meeting.
Francis’ comments come during a partial government shutdown in the U.S. that was triggered by a dispute between Trump, who wants more than $5 billion for a U.S.-Mexico border wall, and Democrats in Congress, who don’t want to allocate any new money for it. The shutdown, now in its fifth week, has affected 800,000 federal workers.
Francis has made the plight of migrants and refugees one of the key issues of his papacy. In the past, he’s made many pronouncements on the morality of a border wall.
In 2016, while Trump was still a presidential candidate, Francis responded to a reporter’s question about Trump’s proposed border wall by suggesting that “a person who only thinks about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”
In 2017, days after Trump released the first iteration of a travel ban temporarily halting refugee admissions and blocking immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, Francis issued another strong indictment of walls.
Catholic youth groups from around the globe attend World Youth Day, which is held every two to three years. The event is meant to revitalize young Catholics’ faith.