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ST. LOUIS — For the first time in nearly a century, a married priest has been ordained by the Maronite Catholic Church in the United States — and his wife and daughter were on hand to support him.
Wissam Akiki was welcomed by hundreds of supporters during a ceremony Thursday night at St. Raymond's Maronite Cathedral in St. Louis. He called it a “historic day” and said he had been given two great blessings: marriage to his wife of 10 years, Manal, and “the dream to serve the Lord thanks and church as a priest.”
Maronites are among more than a dozen Eastern Catholic church groups in the U.S. that accept the authority of the pope but have many of their own rituals and liturgy.
Eastern Catholic churches in the Middle East and Europe ordain married men. But the Vatican banned the practice in America in the 1920s, after Latin-rite bishops complained it was confusing for parishioners.
Pope John Paul II called for greater acceptance of Eastern Catholic traditions, and over the years popes have made exceptions on a case-by-case basis for married men to become Eastern Catholic priests in America. Pope Francis gave permission for Akiki to be ordained.
The ordination ceremony featured several bishops from within the Maronite rite. Many members of the St. Raymond's congregation are of Lebanese descent, and many of the prayers, hymns and readings were in Arabic.
Members of the church said they were ready to welcome the new priest.
“It’s tradition in the old country,” said 54-year-old Linda Hill. “I guess we're finally catching up to the old country.”