Two cabin crew members on a flight from Santiago, Chile, to the northern city of Iquique, got the experience of a lifetime when Pope Francis spontaneously married the couple while midair, as the Guardian reported. The couple, Paula Podest Ruiz, 39, and Carlos Ciuffardi Elorriga, 41, had been married in a civil service a few years back, but their religious ceremony was cancelled after a massive earthquake in 2010 nearly demolished the church in Santiago, the country’s capital, where they had been planning to get married. According to the Guardian, the couple reportedly asked the Pope to bless their marriage, which had not been formally recognized by the Catholic church. In response, he asked, “Do you want me to marry you?” — while the plane was in flight between the two South American cities.
A cardinal on board the papal flight, which was provided by the Chilean airline LATAM, hand-wrote a marriage license for the couple, who have two children under the age of 10 together. Podest and Ciuffardi reportedly met when she was his boss as a flight attendant on the airline. According to the Guardian, the Pope reportedly asked Ciuffardi whether Podest was “still the boss,” and Ciuffardi said yes. According to ABC News, the couple told reporters who were traveling with the pope that "It was very moving. We can’t believe the pope married us! Marriage works […] we hope it will promote marriage.” The couple shared a kiss after the ceremony, which took place at the front of the plane and was captured by the pool of reporters traveling with the Pope’s entourage.
“It was a great surprise and great joy,” Greg Burke, the Vatican spokesman, told the Guardian. “Everything is valid. Everything is official.” The Vatican also said it was the first time in history that the Pope had married someone on a plane, according to CNN.
The Pope had been visiting Chile on a tour of South America, and continued on from Iquique to Peru. Pope Francis is the first Latin American Pope, having been born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1936.
The pontiff’s trip was not without controversy, however. According to the BBC, on Jan. 18, before giving mass in Iquique, Pope Francis drew criticism when he said there was “no proof” to the claims by survivors of sexual abuse by a Chilean priest, Father Fernando Karadima, that another man — Bishop Juan Barros, whom Francis appointed bishop of the southern diocese of Osorno by Francis in 2015 — covered up the abuse. Karadima was found guilty by the Vatican in 2011 and sentenced to “a lifetime of penance and prayer,” according to the BBC.
“"There is not one single piece of proof against [Bishop Juan Barros]. It is all slander. Is that clear?" the Pope reportedly said. Barros denies knowing about the abuse.
The BBC noted that Chile’s relationship with the Catholic church, especially after the accusations of sexual misconduct against Father Karadima emerged in 2010, has been somewhat fragile. Though 45 percent of the country are members of the Catholic church, trust in the church polled at only 36 percent.
Despite the somewhat contentious relationship of some Chileans to the institution of the church, it’s clear that the unexpected midair wedding was met with great enthusiasm. In a video taken on the plane, the groom can be heard exclaiming "The Pope married us!" The Pope gave the not-quite-newlyweds two rosaries, a white one for Podest and a black one for Ciuffardi, as a wedding present, as well as blessed their rings. According to CNN, Podest and Ciuffardi — who were wed in their flight attendants’ uniforms — were “overwhelmed” with emotion after the ceremony. But if the Pope performed my wedding on a plane, I would be, too.