One of the first photos of Pope Francis Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina at the balcony of St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, after his election. (Reuters)
“If I don’t marry you, I’ll become a priest.” They didn’t get married. He became a priest. And on Wednesday, he became the pope.
According to a bespectacled, white-haired woman identified as Amalia Damonte, Pope Francis wrote those words to her in a letter more than sixty years ago, when they were just 10-12 years old.
“In the little letter, he had drawn a little house with a red roof and white walls and, and he wrote, ‘this house is what I’ll buy when we get married,’” the woman remembered, standing on the sidewalk in the Flores neighborhood where they were both born.
But the seemingly innocent promise was taken very differently by Amalia’s conservative parents, who were scandalised their little girl was receiving notes from boys.
“I have nothing to hide, it was a thing of children,” Amalia insisted decades later as reporters and television cameras swarmed.
Nevertheless, her parents tore the letter up and did whatever was necessary to keep their daughter away from the young Jorge Bergoglio, and their courtship was over before it began.
Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires and Primate of Argentina, was elected to be pope on Wednesday. He is the first man from the Americas to hold the post.
Amalia Damonte, now 76 like the pope, still lives four doors down from where Jorge Mario Bergoglio grew up in Buenos Aires.
Damonte says it was clear early on that he was thinking about dedicating his life to God.