Pope Francis Remembers the Girl Who 'Made His Head Spin' in His New Book (Exclusive)

In an excerpt from his new memoir, Pope Francis talks about the woman who almost had his heart before he gave it to God

<p>Vatican Media via Vatican Pool/Getty, Harper One</p> Pope Francis and his new book

Vatican Media via Vatican Pool/Getty, Harper One

Pope Francis and his new book

Pope Francis has a new book out that links his own journey of faith to world events.

Life: My Story Through History, translated from the original Italian by Aubrey Botsford, reflects on the Pope's memories and observations of some of the most significant events to shape our world over the last eight decades.

In stories and meditations, Pope Francis takes readers through the Holocaust to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the moon landing in 1969, the 1986 World Cup, the 9/11 terrorist attacks and even the COVID-19 pandemic.

Along the way, he offers frank and forthcoming messages on the major crises confronting our world, including war, climate change, racial discrimination and a host of social and cultural concerns. But with his characteristic candor, the Pope also shares a wealth of stories that show his humanity.

Below, in an excerpt shared exclusively with PEOPLE, he remembers two women who impacted his life — and a time he almost lost it.

Related: Pope Francis Presides Over Funeral of Former Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Square

During that year at the seminary I experienced a minor lapse. This is normal. We wouldn’t be human otherwise. I had been engaged once, to a very sweet girl who worked in the world of cinema and went on to marry and have children. Now, at the wedding of an uncle of mine, I found myself dazzled by a particular young woman.

She was so beautiful, so clever, it made my head spin. For a week I kept picturing her in my mind’s eye, and found it difficult to pray. Fortunately it passed, and I was able to dedicate my mind and body to my vocation.

Until there came yet another test. It was August 1957. My grandparents were about to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary, but a few days before the day, everyone in the seminary caught the flu. I was infected too, but whereas the other boys recovered and started going out again, I stayed shut up in my room: the fever wouldn’t pass.

One day my condition got worse: my temperature was very high, and the frightened rector rushed me to the Syrian Lebanese Hospital. I was diagnosed with a serious infection; that day they sucked more than two pints of fluid from my lungs. I was cared for by an Italian nurse to whom I owe my life: Sister Cornelia Caraglio, a Dominican.

She realized the dosage of penicillin that had been prescribed for me was insufficient, so she administered the right amount for my condition and saved me. And fellow seminarians with the same blood type came every day to give blood. I had so many guardian angels!

My convalescence was long. I spent a great deal of time in silence. I thought about what might happen to me, I prayed to the Madonna, and to a certain extent I prepared myself for death—which might come suddenly; this could not be ruled out.

Indeed, every time my mother came to see me she burst into tears; others tried to comfort me. In November they removed the upper lobe of my right lung, which had developed three cysts. The surgical procedure used the techniques of the day: you can imagine the incisions they made, and how I suffered.

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Once out of the hospital, I decided to leave the seminary and join a religious order, the Jesuits: I was very attracted to their missionary vocation, and I liked their discipline. They would admit me in March, but it was still November and the summer was about to begin. Thanks to Don Pozzoli, I spent a month among other young clerics at Villa Don Bosco, a mountain residence in Tandil, surrounded by greenery. Don Pozzoli never tried to get me to join their congregation: he respected my choice and didn’t proselytize.

And so, on March 11, 1958, I joined the Society of Jesus. There followed years of study, first in Argentina and at a mission in Chile, then teaching at the College of the Immaculate Conception in Santa Fe and at the College of the Savior in Buenos Aires. By now it was the mid-1960s, and I was officially a maestrillo, or trainee, but the students called me carucha, or babyface, on account of my youth—I was not yet 30. Those young people were certainly creative!

Adapted from LIFE: My Story Through History by Pope Francis. Copyright © 2023 by Pope Francis. Used with permission of HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins. New York, NY. All rights reserved.

Life: My Story Through History goes on sale March 19 and is now available for preorder.

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Read the original article on People.