Jorge Bergoglio in Argentina in 2009 (Natacha Pisarenko/AP)
A broken heart led Pope Francis to the priesthood. At least, that’s what a 76-year-old Argentinian woman claims, Sky News reported.
The old flame, Amalia Damonte, told Argentine TV that Jorge Bergoglio, as he was known then, declared his love for her in a letter. “He said that if I didn't say yes [to his marriage proposal], he would have to become a priest. Luckily for him, I said no.” The future pope was 12 or 13, she recalled.
The two grew up in the same neighborhood in Buenos Aries, where Damonte still lives.
Although she turned down her admirer, the old friend remembers him fondly. "He had a crush on me. ... We used to play on the streets here. It was a quiet neighborhood then. He was very nice," she said.
"We were 12, 13 years old, no more than that," she added. "He was a proper guy."
That the new pope is the first South American to lead the Church has led to interest in his background. Like most of the world, Damonte was as shocked as anyone else by his selection. The septuagenarian recalled, "I froze in front of the television. I couldn't believe that Jorge was the pope."
The two grew up four houses from each other, the now white-haired lady told Sky News. Bergoglio lived with his mother and Italian immigrant father who worked on the railway. She said, “He is a good man, the son of a working-class family. I hope he can achieve all the good that he holds in his heart."
It took a while for Bergoglio to make good on the promise he made in the letter. First, be studied chemistry at a university before finding his religious calling at the age of 21. Even then, he was a teacher before joining the church and becoming a Jesuit priest.
In an interview in 2010, he admitted he had a girlfriend before the priesthood and would dance the tango. He said: "She was one of a group of friends with whom I used to go dancing. Then I discovered my religious vocation."
The world is becoming acquainted with the man known in Argentina as papa villero, ("slum pope"), who has been dedicated to the poor.
Although he did not embrace liberation theology, the liberal doctrine of some of his religious colleagues in the 1970s—some of whom were killed by death squads—he has been criticized for not doing enough during the terror of the Argentine junta. Still, some argue that although he did not stand up to the junta, he did not collaborate with the military rulers, either.
But everyone seems to agree that he’s humble. That humility was on view when Francis chose to ride with his colleagues on a bus rather than in a limo through the Vatican after he had been made pontiff.
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