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When The Pope Married A Couple Onboard an Airbus A320

Wedding chimes ring on an airborne A320

Pope Francis conducts the wedding ceremony at the front of the plane. Photograph: Osservatore Romano Press Office Handout/EPA

In aviation the ordinary always has the potential to become extraordinary. That is precisely what happened in the cabin of a A320 on Jan 18, 2018, when Pope Francis became the first Pope to celebrate a wedding in mid-air.

Shepherd One

LATAM operates the Boeing B-787, B-777 and the Airbus A350, A320 aircraft. They have the largest route network connecting South America to the world. The LATAM airline was born out of a merger of LAN & TAM. The airline was selected by the Vatican to operate Pope Francis’ flights during his apostolic visit to South America.

The aircraft operated under the callsign “Shepherd One” the Papal designation that has been used on all the Pope’s flights since 1964. The venue was none other than an Airbus A320, a single aisle narrow-body, medium range aircraft. The couple tied the knot at a speed of close to 500 knots and 36,000 feet, which makes this not only the highest altitude papal wedding we’ve ever heard of, but it had to be the fastest one too. If you know how long catholic weddings are that’s pretty impressive.

Papal Wedding on board an A320

The couple approached Pope Francis while working LATAM Flight 1250 from Santiago (SCL) to Inquiqe (IQQ), Chile with a request for a blessing upon their marriage.

The couple Carlos Ciuffardi and Paula Podest had been flying with LATAM Airlines and working as flight attendants for over 10 years. The couple were both selected to serve as crew members for the flight. The bride & groom have worked for the airline for over 10 years and have both been awarded distinctions for the level of service care and professionalism that they have provided LATAM customers for years. They were hand-selected to attend the Pope on this Chilean flight.

The couple has been civilly married for eight years and has two children. Carlo & Paula had a wedding date set in 2010 but when an earthquake rocked Chile on Feb 27th 2010 destroying the bell tower and damaging the church they were forced to cancel their wedding.

Saying “I do” at FL360

The Holy Father inspired by compassion for not only this couple but all couples asked the couple if they wanted to be married on the plane.

Pope Francis exclaimed,

“Well should I marry you? Do you want to get married? Yes? Come here, I’ll marry you.”

“He took their hands, blessed the rings and married us in God’s name.” Paula stated. The couple said their vows as the Pope presided in the business class section of an A320. Ignacio Cueto CEO of LATAM Airlines was on board and agreed to witness as the couple tied the knot in midair.

The Pope said to the couple that, “Marriage is the sacrament that the world is lacking. Lets hope that what you have done here will be an inspiration to other couples.”

Mid-Air Formalities

Pope Francis also presented Carlo and Paula with wedding gifts. He gave the bride a white rosary and the groom a black one. A Vatican official hastily drew up a certificate of marriage on the spot, which Pope Francis and a Chilean Bishop signed. Then the couple met with the entourage of journalists traveling with the Pope at the back of the plane. At first the reporters thought their flight crew was playing a practical joke but when the marriage certificate was produced everyone realized that a historic event just occurred. It was the first time the Pope married a couple in the air.

The hand-written document, signed by Pope Francis, attesting to Podest and Ciuffardi’s wedding aboard the papal plane (Vatican photo)

Podest and Cuiffardi met 10 years ago when she was his boss as a steward for LATAM. Pope Francis asked Cuiffardi if his wife was still the boss, He laughed and said “Yes.” After the mid-flight nuptuial there was applause and a breakfast service of fresh fruit, croissants, coffee and tea.  Then the plane landed & the newly weds bid their passengers farewell. “We hope you had a good flight”

Pope Francis stated at a press conference following the flight, “Why not do today that which could be done today.” 

Avgeekery congratulates the happy couple and wishes them years of joy and a life of happiness together.

Pope Francis conducts the wedding ceremony at the front of the plane. Photograph: Osservatore Romano Press Office Handout/EPA

EXTERNAL: Fun facts and more about life aboard the Papal plane

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Joe Vaeth

Written by Joe Vaeth

Joe Vaeth is a life-long fan of all things aviation. Currently an airline pilot, his background includes over 10 years of flying C-130s for the U.S. Air Force and glider flying along the front range of the Colorado Rockies. He resides in Southern California with his wife and three children and has recently taken up cider brewing. He also enjoys, bike riding, kite flying & aerial photography.

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