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 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 also told her "If I don't marry you, I'm going to be a priest."
"These were childish things, nothing more," she said.
But her parents were furious -- her father spanked her, and her mother confronted her.
"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?!' "
"My parents pulled me away completely. From that point on they did everything possible to separate us," she said. "What I wanted is for him to disappear from the map!"
They did talk one more time however, she said. "I told him, please, don't approach me again, get as far away as possible, because if you get close to my father, he'll kill you!"
In the end, she said, "it was nothing important because we couldn't have much with the parents we had."
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, naturally, but never tried to speak with him again.
"I think he's really very down-to-earth, and that's how I am, too. I'm very humble. You all will notice. I'm always the same. Perhaps in that sense we might be soulmates. Because we're very humble, we love the poor. The trouble is that today there's no love for the poor. People love fancy clothes and nothing more," she said, tugging at her collar.
Argentine papers and television have been calling Damonte the "Pope's Girlfriend," and wondering whether she'll try to see him again. She says that's ridiculous.
"He's in a very high position, and I'm still very humble," she said. "I'm the past. A past that's lovely, clean, humble. They say that you never escape your origins."