Decades-long couple finally married by Catholic Church thanks to reform on divorcees

In a small town tucked into a valley, songs from a local band heralded a religious wedding that had remained out of reach for decades.

In 46 years of marriage, Pablo Ibarra and Francisca Santiago have had eight children and several grandchildren. But until Pope Francis' reforms to the church's annulment process went into effect on Dec. 8, 2015, they didn't think they could be married in a religious ceremony – he was divorced.

The reforms streamlined a previously complicated process for divorces.

So last year, with the help of the Rev. Domingo García Martínez, the couple's annulment case was taken to a bishop in Oaxaca. The prelate determined Ibarra's first marriage was null because he had not lived with his former wife for more than 40 years and she didn't present herself to petition the annulment.

On July 23, Garcia performed Ibarra and Santiago's wedding in front of about 250 family members and friends.

After receiving the sacrament, Santiago pulled in the priest for a big hug while a nose-wrinkling smile lit up her face.

"It was beautiful, everything I hoped for," she said. "Now we are together with the blessing of God."

The couple first met in 1967 while tending goats in the fields outside Santa Ana in the southern state of Oaxaca. Soon, Ibarra asked Santiago to marry him, but he wanted her to move with him to Mexico City.

Santiago, who was 16 at the time, turned down his offer because she didn’t want to leave her widowed mother alone.

When Ibarra returned to Santa Ana three years later, Ibarra proposed again and this time it was “yes.” The only issue was that they could only marry in a civil ceremony, not in a Roman Catholic Church as they wished, because Ibarra was divorced.

"It felt like the first time I saw her," Ibarra said after the exchange of vows. "But now it finally feels right. With her, God has blessed my life so much."

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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