Meet Amalia, Whose "No" To A Pre-Teen Wedding Proposal Gave Us Pope Francis

They were just 12, and her father didn't approve of their childhood love. Sixty-five years later, she watched him step onto St. Peter's balcony as Pope Francis.

Amalia teeling her story to the Argentinian press
Amalia teeling her story to the Argentinian press
Fernando Soriano

BUENOS AIRES - Almost a decade before he began the long journey that would take him from the seminary to St. Peter’s, Jorge Bergoglio was in love. It was pre-adolescent, platonic, and filled with naive sincerity. But something quietly stayed with Amalia, the woman in question, and she never forgot him.

They met in the neighborhood of Flores, in Buenos Aires, when they were both around 12 years old and had a crush on each other. Amalia, who told the brief story of their puppy love to the Argentinian press two days after Bergoglio became Pope Francis, described the innocence of how they met.

She remembered a letter that young Jorge sent to her, in which he imagined a future where they would be together for the rest of their lives: “I remember that little letter, and on it he had drawn a white house with a red roof. He said "this is the house I will buy you when we get married."”

Amalia explained that they were too young to call what happened between them “a relationship.” Even still, Bergoglio’s sweet intentions has stayed with her for more than 60 years. “We were not boyfriend and girlfriend," she explained. "I have the impression that I was the first person with whom he thought he could have a home and a family. He didn’t propose bad things to me, he proposed a home and for me, that meant a lot.” The young Bergoglio even told her that if she wouldn't marry him, he'd become a priest.

Angry parents, a farewell

Certainly in the context of the era, as well as the ages of Jorge and Amalia, the boy's letter got a blunt reaction from the girl’s parents. “My father gave me a beating -- how dare I get such a letter from a boy? My mother came to get me at school and scolded me: ‘So, boys send you letters?’ I said to her, ‘no mamá, just Jorge’. And she said ‘what do I care, you’re a fine young lady who we taught better.’”

So, after the clear message from her parents, Amalia asked Jorge to leave her alone and stop sending her letters because she was scared of more repercussions. “I said look, please, Jorge, don’t come any closer -- if my dad finds out, he’ll kill you,” she laughs, telling the story to a small group of reporters.

The two would never see each other again, as he rose through the ranks of the Church hierarchy to become a Cardinal and the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and she married and had a family.

On Wednesday, along with the rest of the planet, Amalia was surprised to hear that Jorge would be Pope Francis. “I jumped to my feet when it was announced. Jorge, I send you a big hug, with a lifetime of love,” she said.

Her entire life, all of the memories of her childhood, are vivid in Amalia’s mind, even these days. There is neither nostalgia for the past nor tears for a love that was denied. What this woman shows is respect and a wonderful memory of the type of person that Bergoglio has always been. “His heart was always this way; he’s a pastor who offers himself to others, he gives food to the poor and clothes to those who need them,” she said.

Amalia knows that it will be difficult to see him again, to remember their shared past, or to embody the hug she sent him through her TV set on Wednesday: “He is on a very high seat, I’m very humbled and I’m sure he will not lose his humility. But our surroundings force us to live differently, I am his past. A sweet, innocent and humble past.”

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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