‘I rejected Pope Francis’ marriage proposal’

The new Pope’s childhood sweetheart revealed yesterday how she helped him become a priest – by rejecting his marriage proposal.

Amalia Damonte, 77, says she spurned Jorge Bergoglio, 76 when he popped the question at the tender age of 12 because her parents did not think that much of him.

She said it was 1948 or 1949 when the young son of Italian immigrants slipped a love letter in her hand.

She was speaking outside the house she grew up in, four doors down from the former childhood home of Pope Francis where he lived with his mother and railway worker father in Buenos Aires.

Pope Francis with his sweet heart

Amalia said: “He wrote me a letter telling me that one day he would like to marry me.

“He said that if I didn’t say yes, he would have to become a priest. Luckily for him, I said no!”

She added: “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.”

Speaking as the Pope started the first day of his new life as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, Amalia told of seeing him become elected.

She said: “I froze in front of the television,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that Jorge was the Pope!”

She said she shared the high hopes of millions of Latin Americans celebrating the election of the region’s first pope.

“He is a good man, the son of a working-class family,” she said. “I hope he can achieve all the good that he holds in his heart.”

At a nearby Church school where Bergoglio attended nursery and had his first communion, he played football on Sundays, a 90-year-old nun recalled.

Bergoglio’s passion for the game has continued and he is a card-carrying member of leading Buenos Aires team San Lorenzo – nicknamed The Saints.

Fellow fan Oscar Lucchini said: “He says he lives in a permanent state of suffering for San Lorenzo.”

Argentina football legend Diego Maradona yesterday tweeted a picture of himself holding up the message: “The hand of God approves of the new pope”.

The former footballer scored against England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final with what he claimed was ‘the hand of God’.

The front page of Thursday’s Daily Mirror, which referred to the ‘New Hand of God’, was described by the LA Times as the “cleverest new-pope headline”.

Meanwhile the Wall Street Journal noted: “Argentines commented feverishly on Facebook and Twitter about the cover of the British newspaper, the Daily Mirror.

“The photo’s caption, the “New Hand of God…,” was a reference to Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona’s famed use of his hand to score a goal against England at the 1986 World Cup.”

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