Exploring Pope Francis' old neighborhood in Buenos Aires

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015
VIDEO: Jim Gardner visits pope's hometown
Buenos Aires, a city of almost 3-million people, chaotic traffic, ever present graffiti, but extraordinary energy.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (WPVI) -- Buenos Aires is a city of almost 3-million people, chaotic traffic, ever present graffiti, but extraordinary energy.

And until March 13, 2013, the two Argentine names recognized around the world were Eva Peron and soccer star Lionel Messi.

But on that day, everything changed.

That was the day that this city's Archbishop, Jorge Bergoglio, was elected pope and took on the name Francis after Francis of Assisi.

Jorge was born on December 17, 1936.

He was the first of five siblings born to Italian immigrant parents.

I took a special tour of his neighborhood called Flores, Buenos Aires with guide Daniel Vega and stood outside his first school where he attended kindergarten.

His father Mario and mother Regina both worked outside the house, so it was Jorge's grandmother Rosa who effectively raised him and who would be an enormous influence in his life.

Rosa was the first to tell young Jorge that compassion should take precedence over judgment and that it was essential to find the best in others.

Those are two of the pillars of Francis' papacy and two of the reasons Francis is seen as bringing a new culture to the Vatican.

Bergoglio's parents moved to a new neighborhood, not far away - a neighborhood of cobblestones and quiet streets.

I saw the church where he received his first communion and his new house where his siblings would be born.

At a home two doors down, at age 13, he would fall in love with Amalia Dalmonte.

He wrote her a letter saying if he didn't become a priest, he would marry her.

Amalia died last January, but we talked to her grandson, Mattias.

He confirmed that his grandmother's father ripped up the letter from young Jorge down the block.

But Mattias said his grandmother always described her friendship with Bergoglio as "beautiful" and "pure."

Jorge's mother and father wanted their son to be a doctor and he didn't tell them about his increasing interest in another kind of calling.

His epiphany came when he was supposed to meet some of his friends at a subway stop, but instead stopped at San Jose de Flores Church.

He went in to make confession and it was during that moment, at age 17, when he decided he would spend the rest of his life doing God's work and become a priest.

Five years later, Bergoglio entered the seminary, and began a career in the church that had plenty of ups and downs, and plenty of controversy.

We'll continue to follow that part of the Pope Francis story as the week unfolds.