By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis’ decision to convalidate the marriage of two flight attendants in the air sent waves of turbulence through the Catholic blogosphere, where respected canon lawyers and pastors raised serious questions about the pope sending a message that marriage wasn’t so serious.
But three days later, the pope gave reporters more of the background, demonstrating that he did not make the decision on the fly and neither did the couple.
“I judged they were prepared, they knew what they were doing,” the pope told reporters Jan. 21 on his flight back to Rome. “Both of them had prepared before God – with the sacrament of penance – and I married them.”
The blessing of the marriage of LATAM flight attendants Carlos Ciuffardi Elorriaga and Paula Podest Ruiz took place during the pope’s flight Jan. 18 from Santiago, Chile, to Iquique.
When the couple went to the back of the plane and told reporters about it, the whole thing had sounded very spontaneous.
But Pope Francis told reporters later that Ciuffardi also worked on the papal flight to Temuco the day before; Podest, whom he had married civilly in 2010, was not working the Jan. 17 flight.
So the groom had a chance to speak to the pope alone. “Later, I realized he was checking me out,” the pope told reporters. They spoke about life, marriage and the family. “It was a nice conversation.”
The next day, both attendants were on duty. They told the pope they had planned to marry in the church, but early in the morning the day of the wedding, Feb. 27, 2010, a massive earthquake struck Chile and the church collapsed.
The couple ended up marrying in a civil ceremony, and they have two daughters. They told the pope they planned to reschedule the church ceremony but just kept putting it off.
“I questioned them a bit and their answers were clear, it was for life, and they told me they had done the pre-marriage course,” the pope told reporters. Also, he said, “they were aware that they were in an irregular situation.”
In a story Dec. 19 about the crew chosen to work the papal flights, El Mercurio, a Chilean newspaper, had interviewed the couple. Already then, they raised the hope of Pope Francis blessing their union in flight. “We would love it, it’s our place, it’s our second home,” Podest was quoted as saying.
“One of you said I was crazy to do this,” the pope told reporters. But “they were prepared, and if the priest says they are prepared and I decided that they were prepared … the sacraments are for the people.”
“All the conditions were there, that is clear,” he said. So, “why not do it today,” otherwise they could have put it off for another 10 years.