Pope's Childhood Love 'Made Him Become Priest'

A former child sweetheart of Pope Francis has claimed that he went on to become a catholic priest after she turned down his marriage proposal.

Amalia Damonte, 76, grew up in the same Flores neighbourhood of Buenos Aires as Jorge Bergoglio and said that when the Pontiff was 12, he wrote a letter declaring his love.

Speaking to Argentinian TV, she said: "He said that if I didn't say yes, he would have to become a priest. Luckily for him, I said no.

"He had a crush on me ... We used to play on the streets here. It was a quiet neighbourhood then. He was very nice."

"We were 12, 13 years old, no more than that," she said. "He was wonderful. He was a proper guy."

She said when she found out her former admirer had been made the first non-European pope for 1,300 years, she was shocked.

The pensioner said: "I froze in front of the television. I couldn't believe that Jorge was the Pope!"

Unlike in the Anglican church, Catholic priests have to agree to a life of chastity and are not supposed to marry.

She said it was the letter he sent to her in 1948 or 1949 that led to them splitting up.

"There was only one letter and it cost me a smack in the face from my father," she said.

"It said we were going to get married and I am going to buy you a white house. So the two of us could live together."

Mrs Damonte still lives in the house four doors away from where Pope Francis grew up with his mother and Italian immigrant railway worker father.

She said she shared the hopes of the world's £1.2bn Catholics that he will bring people together.

"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," she said.

In an interview in 2010, Pope Francis admitted he once had a girlfriend with whom he enjoyed dancing 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."

Jorge Bergoglio originally studied chemistry at technical school and university before deciding, at the age of 21, to become a priest.

Although he entered the Society of Jesus in 1958 and studied to become a Jesuit priest, he was not ordained until 1969, having spent some time as a teacher.