BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — An Argentine woman who grew up as the neighbor of the future Pope Francis says she was very briefly the object of his affections when they were just 12 years old.
Amalia Damonte is now 76, just like the pope, and she still lives in a house just four doors down from where Jorge Mario Bergoglio grew up in the Flores neighborhood of Buenos Aires.
And she says it was clear from the start that he was thinking about dedicating his life to God.
Damonte said she especially remembers a handwritten letter he left for her, because it got her into a lot of trouble at the time.
"I remember perfectly that he had drawn me a little white house, which had a red roof, and it said "this is what I'll buy when we marry."
She said he supposedly also told her "If I don't marry you, I'm going to be a priest."
The Argentine media has had a field day with Damonte's recollections of her former neighbor, calling her the pope's "girlfriend."
But, Damonte said, "These were childish things, nothing more."
Nevertheless, she said, her strict parents were furious about the missive.
"My mom broke it off. Good Lord. She came to get me at the school and she said `so, you're getting letters from a boy?!' "
Her parents then did everything they could to keep them apart.
The Bergoglio family moved away from Membrillar Street decades ago. Damonte said she moved away as well, married and raised a family, and only returned to her parents' home years later. She followed her former neighbor's rise through the church, but never tried to speak with him again.