At 36,000 feet, it was a marriage almost made in heaven.

In the first such ceremony on a papal flight, Pope Francis performed a wedding for two air stewards while flying between two Chilean cities.

Paula Podest Ruiz, 39, and Carlos Ciuffardi Elorriga, 41,who had a civil union eight years ago, told the pope that a religious ceremony that was to follow was canceled after their parish church in Santiago was heavily damaged in an earthquake in 2010.

They asked him to bless their marriage, but the Pope decided to go a step further. 

"We told him that we are husband and wife. That we have two daughters and that we would have loved to receive his blessing. All of a sudden, he asked us if we were married for the Church too," Mr Ciuffardi told reporters afterwards on the plane, which was en route to the northern city of Iquique from Santiago.

The couple explained to the pope how the 2010 earthquake had damaged the church they had hoped to marry in.

"He liked us and he asked: 'Do you want me to marry you?' He asked: 'Are you sure?,' Ms Podest said. "'Yes of course,' we said."

The pope performed the brief ceremony in the front of the plane. Ignacio Cueto, president of Latam airlines, who was onboard, was the witness.

An improvised marriage certificate was signed by the pope, the couple, Mr Cueto and a bishop who was on the plane.

"Being married by a pope on board a flight is something priceless," Ms Podest said.

"I asked him: 'Do you marry people?' He said: 'Yes, from time to time. I have married 40 couples. But never has a pope married somebody on a flight, she said.

Ms Podest told reporters and the pope that the couple had met on a flight when she was his boss, adding: "I am still his boss."

The pope celebrated mass in an unsettled region of southern Chile yesterday, denouncing the use of violence in the struggle for indigenous rights, only hours after churches and other targets were firebombed.

Francis was shining the spotlight on the simmering conflict between the state and the Mapuche people, who centuries ago controlled vast areas of Chile but have since been marginalised.

"You cannot assert yourself by destroying others, because this only leads to more violence and division," the pope said, speaking at an airfield in Temuco, the capital of the southern Araucania region.

At the pope's first public mass in Santiago on Tuesday, he faced protests over the church's handling of decades of sexual abuse by the clergy.

Scuffles broke out between riot police and demonstrators near O'Higgins Park, and police used water cannons on protesters. More than 50 people were arrested, authorities said

Later, the pope met privately with a small group of people sexually abused by priests after he publicly asked for forgiveness.

During the private meeting at the Vatican embassy in the capital, the victims "spoke of their suffering to Pope Francis, who listened to them and prayed and cried with them," the Vatican said.