In Brief

Pope turned to God after snub by sweetheart Amalia Damonte

'He told me he'd become a priest if he couldn't marry me,' claims 76-year-old. 'Luckily I said no'

pope-girlfriend.jpg

JORGE Mario Bergoglio, the man this week elected as the first Latin American pope, reportedly turned to religion after he was spurned by his childhood sweetheart when they were both just 12 years old.

According to 76-year-old Amalia Damonte, Pope Francis once declared "If I can't marry you, I'll become a priest" after she rejected him during their childhood in Buenos Aires. "Luckily for him, I said no", she joked.

Speaking from her home, four doors down from where Francis grew up in Flores, Argentina, Damonte revealed her parents had kept the two apart because they disapproved of their budding romance.

"When we were young, he wrote me a letter and I didn't reply to him," she told the Argentinean press. "My father had hit me because I had dared to write a note to a boy."

Damonte's revelation came as the sister of the 266th pontiff, María Elena Bergoglio, said she was concerned her brother would face "infinite loneliness" in his new role.

She told the Daily Telegraph Francis had jokingly said "no, please no" at the prospect of being the next Pope. "I didn't want him to become Pope because he's going to be very far away and second because it is such a large responsibility. But I am also totally proud that he is the new Pope - because he's the first from outside Europe, because he's Latin American, he's Argentine and he's my brother," she said.

Despite his apparent reluctance, Francis, 76, was elected the Catholic Church's leader on Wednesday, replacing 85-year-old Benedict, who stepped down last month. Bergoglio inherits a church wrestling with an array of challenges that intensified during Pope Benedict's tenure - from growing competition from evangelical churches in the Southern Hemisphere to a priest shortage and a sexual abuse crisis.

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