(CN) - A furious Donald Trump blasted Pope Francis Thursday afternoon after the pontiff suggested the billionaire real estate mogul "is not Christian" because of his advocacy for deporting illegal immigrants and harsh stance toward Mexico.
Trump has made the deportation of illegal immigrants and the construction of a wall between the United States and Mexico to keep more of them out a centerpiece of his presidential campaign.
His hard line on these and other issues have made him the frontrunner in the polls in South Carolina and Nevada, the next two states in the primary and caucus lineup.
The pope, however, revealed on Wednesday afternoon that he isn't among the fans of such rhetoric.
"A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian," the pope said as he returned to Rome following a six-day visit to Mexico.
Pope Francis made the comment in response to a questions from a reporter.
Stumping in South Carolina ahead of the Saturday's Republican presidential primary, Trump tore into the Pope, calling the pontiff's apparent questioning of his faith, "disgraceful."
He added that if the Vatican is ever attacked by ISIS, the pope "would only wish and pray that Donald Trump would have been elected president."
Trump said in making the statement "the pope is a pawn of the Mexican government, which should be ashamed of itself."
For his part, Pope Francis intends to stay above the electoral fray in the United States.
Asked if he would advice Catholics not to vote for Trump, Pope Francis said he had no intention of telling U.S. Catholics who to support in the race for the White House.
"I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that," the pope said. "We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt."
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