'The Pope fancied me - and he said if I wasn't keen he'd become a priest,' former sweetheart says

Amalia Damonte says she spurned Jorge Bergoglio – and now he's Pope Francis

Buenos Aires

“I froze in front of the television. I couldn’t believe that Jorge was the Pope!” confessed the 77-year-old lady with white hair and spectacles outside her home at 555 Membranilla Street in the Flores district of Buenos Aires last night. She had one more little admission – about a man who is now pontiff and a love letter from long, long ago.

It was 1948 or 1949 – Amalia Damonte can’t be entirely sure – when the young son of Italian immigrants slipped a letter in her hand declaring his undying love for her. She does know that he was 12 years old at the time and that she spurned his advances in part because her parents didn’t think that much of him.

“He wrote me a letter telling me that one day he would like to marry me,” she said standing outside the same house that she grew up in, just four doors from down what used to be the childhood home of Jorge Bergoglio at number 531, where he lived with his mother and railway-worker father. (It has since been knocked down.) “He said that if I didn’t say yes, he would have to become a priest. Luckily for him, I said no!”

That she left the young man with his romantic yearnings unrequited is not something she has forgotten and although it was more than 60 years ago, she may still harbour a smidgen of regret. “He had a crush on me, you know. We used to play on the streets here. It was a quiet neighbourhood then, and, well, he was very nice.”

Amalia eventually moved away from Membranilla Street but returned when her parents died. She did marry in the end and admitted that she wished the boy from down the road had been there, albeit in his official capacity as a priest. Their lives have since diverged in a way neither could have imagined, but today they were reunited in the media. While Amalia told her story to a handful of reporters in Buenos Aires, her “Jorge” was starting the first day of his new life as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, with a sizeable number of the world’s news reporters on his tail.

First he surprised worshippers with a visit to the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore to pray before returning to the Casa del Clero, the religious hostel he stayed in for a week before the conclave. Here he lived up to his humble reputation by paying his own bill. It later emerged he may meet his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict, this weekend, after the pair talked on the telephone on Wednesday. Should the two be in the same room together it would be a historic conversation between pontiffs past and present.

Later he met the 114 cardinals who elected him, many of whom may be hoping for plum jobs when Pope Francis announces his shake-up of the Vatican’s governing body, the Roman Curia. Here he gave further evidence of a Pope who intends to stamp his identity on the role, warning that, without spiritual renewal, the church would become just “a compassionate NGO”.

Pope Francis will lead his first Angelus as pope in St Peter’s Square on Sunday, the Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said, and the inaugural mass of his pontificate will take place on Tuesday. He will face one of Benedict’s greatest nemeses, the media, on Saturday. But so far most of them are on his side, particularly after Father Lombardi revealed that he has asked for a reduced car escort.

This winning modesty was underlined by comments from his 82-year-old cousin Giuseppina Ravedone Martinengo, who lives in Turin.

“My cousin will bring a breath of fresh air to the Vatican,” she said. “He is someone who likes to change things. The last time he visited, he arrived with a low-cost flight. He always travels like that. No waste.”

Perhaps Amalia’s parents were wrong about the boy from down the road all those years ago.

Additional reporting by Michael Day

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
tech

Apple has been hit by complaints about the 1.1GB download

Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff
tv

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Arts and Entertainment
tv

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
Life and Style
i100

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst – 2 year fixed term contract – Kent – Circa £55k

£45000 - £55000 Per Annum 31 days holiday, pension, healthcare, annual bonus: ...

Experienced Foundation Teacher

£100 - £222 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recruiting f...

SEN Learning Support Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: SEN TA's apply now! West Midlands

Network Infrastructure Technical Lead - up to £45k DOE - Surrey

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week