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ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE – Pope Francis celebrated the first-ever airborne papal wedding on Thursday, marrying two flight attendants from Chile's flagship airline at 36,000 feet during a flight from Santiago.
Bride Paula Podest, 39, and groom Carlos Ciuffardi, 41, said "I do" after telling Francis that they had been married in a civil service in 2010 but had been unable to follow up with a church ceremony because of the Feb. 27, 2010, earthquake that rocked Chile.
Francis then offered to marry the LATAM flight attendants aboard the Airbus 321 en route to the northern beach city of Iquique, and they readily agreed. The head of the airline served as the witness.
"He told me it's historic, that there has never before been a pope who married someone aboard a plane," Ciuffardi told journalists aboard the flight.
Ciuffardi said the pope also told them: "This is the sacrament that is missing in the world, the sacrament of marriage. May this motivate others to get the sacrament of marriage. I'll do it for this reason."
Podest and Ciuffardi, who have two children, 6-year-old Rafaela and 3-year-old Isabela, said they plan to take a "mini-honeymoon" and return to Santiago on Friday.
Francis is wrapping up his visit to Chile in Iquique, where he celebrated Mass for members of the city's growing immigrant community before heading to Peru.
The remarkable wedding transpired seemingly spontaneously, as is often the case with the ever-surprising Francis. The flight crew was gathering in the front of the plane for a photo with the pope when the couple told him they were married and he motioned for them to sit next to him.
"We told him that we are husband and wife, that we have two daughters and that we would have loved to receive his blessing," Ciuffardi said. "All of a sudden he asked us if we were married in the church, too."
The couple explained that their church's bell tower had fallen during the quake, forcing the cancellation of the service. One thing led to another, and they never followed up.
"He liked us and he asked, 'Do you want me to marry you?'" Ciuffardi recounted. "He asked: 'Are you sure?' 'Yes, of course!' we said."
A Vatican official hastily drew up an official, albeit handwritten marriage certificate, stating that the two had consented to the sacrament of marriage on Jan. 18 and that Francis had celebrated the marriage "aboard the papal plane from Santiago to Iquique."
A stunned Podest was nearly speechless during the remaining hour on the flight as she recounted the story to the 70 or so journalists who travel with the pope on his foreign trips.
She said Francis offered a bit of advice to the not-so-newlyweds: "The wedding rings shouldn't be too tight, because they'll torture you, but if they're too loose, they'll fall off. So we have to be careful," she said blushing.
Podest said she and Ciuffardi had also explained to Francis that when they first started dating, she was his boss at LATAM. Francis asked if she was still the boss, and both readily agreed.
"And that's why the marriage works," Ciuffardi said.
After applause — and a breakfast of fresh fruit, croissants, coffee and tea — the plane landed in Iquique and the couple bid the passengers farewell.
"We hope you had a good flight," the bride said.