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An hour after the impromptu ceremony, after the flight attendants had passed through the cabin with breakfast trays of fruit cups and warmed croissants, coffee and tea, the plane landed in Iquique and the happy couple bid the passengers farewell. Francis then moved on to the real purpose of his visit, celebrating Mass for the region’s migrant community.

During his homily, he urged the Chilean government to continue welcoming migrants and caring for the least fortunate among them, saying, “There is no Christian joy when doors are closed.” The Argentine pope, who has frequently called on wealthy countries to welcome migrants and refugees, praised Iquique for having been a “land of dreams” for so many newcomers.

The airborne wedding came about spontaneously, as is often the case with the ever-surprising Pope Francis.

“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.

But Thursday’s incident again underscored his vulnerability in the open-sided vehicles that often pass through tight, crowded spaces.

Earlier in the trip, Pope Francis was hit in the head with a flying object that someone in the crowd had thrown toward him.

“Let us be attentive to those who profit from the irregular status of many immigrants who don’t know the language or who don’t have their papers in order.” After the Mass, as his entourage headed back to Iquique, Pope Francis had a scare when a police horse reared up just as his pope mobile was passing by, throwing the rider and forcing the Pope’s driver to swerve slightly to get out of the way.

The unhurt Pope Francis then had his driver stop so that he could get out of the vehicle and check on the officer, described by the Vatican as a Chilean policewoman.

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In between, he did what he actually came to do: celebrate Mass for some 50,000 people in a desert-hot field near the town of Iquique. The crew of Chile’s flagship carrier was gathering in the first-class section for the usual photo with the Pope when flight attendants Paula Podest, 39, and Carlos Ciuffardi, 41, revealed that they were a married couple.

Pope Francis marries flight attendants Carlos Ciuffardi (left) and Paola Podest (center) during a flight from Santiago, Chile to Iquique, Chile on Thursday, January 18, 2018.

Pope Francis celebrated the first-ever airborne papal wedding, marrying these two flight attendants from Chile’s flagship airline during the flight.

And as a final gesture to cap a most remarkable day even by Franciscan standards, the 81-year-old Argentine set off a near-national uproar by accusing victims of Chile’s most notorious pedophile priest of slander. Francis motioned for them to sit next to him for the photo and asked if they had been married in the church.

They told Francis that they had a civil wedding in 2010 but had been unable to follow up with a church ceremony because the February 27, 2010 earthquake that rocked Chile had damaged the church. “He told me it’s historic, that there has never before been a pope who married someone aboard a plane,” the groom told journalists aboard the flight after he exchanged his “I do’s” with his beaming bride.


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