Pope Francis has so far shown how different his reign in the Vatican will be. He washed the feet of prisoners just recently, a practice past popes have done only for Bishops. He has also underlined the role of women in the Roman Catholic faith, as a book to be published in English for the first time revealed he was “dazzled” by a girl whom he met in his youth.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio met the young woman while training to be a priest in his native Argentina but eventually turned his back on the budding romance and resolved to follow a life of celibacy.
The revelation came as Pope Francis highlighted the role of women in the Bible and the history of Christianity but gave no indication that he wished to soften the Vatican’s ban on female clergy or celibacy rules for priests.
“While I was a seminarian, I was dazzled by a girl I met at an uncle’s wedding. I was struck by her beauty, her spirit,” the Pope said in the book, On Heaven and Earth, which was published in Spanish in 2010 when he was still the archbishop of Buenos Aires and will be published in English next month.
“I was bowled over for quite a while, she made my head spin. I kept thinking and thinking about her. When I returned to the seminary after the wedding, I could not pray for over a week because when I tried to do so, the girl appeared in my head. I had to rethink what I was doing.”
He said he knew he had to choose between his love for the girl or the priesthood and finally picked the latter. After studying at the Inmaculada Concepcion seminary in Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio became a Jesuit priest in 1960.
It was not clear if the young woman was the same girlfriend that he has alluded to previously — a teenager with whom he used to dance the tango. Separately, a 76-year-old Argentine woman who grew up with the future Pontiff has said the two were very close when they were 12.
Amalia Damonte, from Buenos Aires, said he drew her a picture of a little white house with a red roof and wrote: “This is what I’ll buy when we marry”. The book, which will be published on May 7, was written with an Argentine rabbi, Abraham Skorka, and is based on hours of interfaith dialogue on subjects such as celibacy, same-s*x marriage, abortion, homos*xuality and euthanasia.’
Pope Francis has established a much more informal, man-of-the-people style in comparison with his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who is now in retirement in a castle outside Rome as Pope Emeritus. But the book shows that the 76-year-old South American Pope is as doctrinally conservative as Benedict. He staunchly rejects the idea that the Church should allow women to become priests.
“Woman has another role, which is reflected in the figure of Mary,” he writes in the book. [Daily Telegraph]