Pope-to-be turned to the church after young love thwarted

AFP-JIJI

“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 only as Amalia, Jorge Bergoglio wrote those words to her in a letter more than 60 years ago, when they were 10 or 12 years old.

“In the little letter, he had drawn a little house with a red roof and white walls and he wrote, ‘This house is what I’ll buy when we get married,’ ” she remembered, standing on the sidewalk in the Flores neighborhood of Buenos Aires where they were both born. But the seemingly innocent promise was taken very differently by Amalia’s conservative parents, who were scandalized that 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 Bergoglio, and their courtship was over before it began.

At his former school in Buenos Aires, the establishment’s mother superior said that as a boy, Bergoglio was a “little devil” who jumped up and down the stairs of the century-old building. He memorized multiplication tables aloud as he skipped steps at the De la Misericordia school, where he celebrated his First Communion at the age of 9, Sister Martha Rabino remembered. “He was a devil, a little devil, very mischievous, like every boy,” the 71-year-old nun said with a smile. “Who would have known that he would become pope!”

Rabino wept tears of joy when the 76-year-old Jesuit, who still shares tea with milk with the school’s nuns, was elected to the throne of St. Peter. Rabino also taught catechism to Cristina Kirchner in the nearby city of La Plata decades before she became president of Argentina.