A MARRIED man has been ordained by the Maronite Catholic Church in the United States for the first time in nearly a century. His wife and daughter were on hand to support him.
Wissam Akiki was welcomed by hundreds of supporters during a ceremony on Thursday night at St Raymond's Maronite Cathedral in St Louis, Missouri.
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 and church as a priest".
Maronites are among more than a dozen Eastern Catholic church groups in the US that accept the authority of the pope but have many of their own rituals and liturgy.
These 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 the US.
Pope Francis gave permission for Akiki to be ordained.
"Almost half of our priests in Lebanon are married, so it's not an unusual event in the life of the Maronite Church, though in the United States it is," said Deacon Louis Peters, chancellor at St Raymond's.
The ordination ceremony featured several bishops from within the Maronite rite and many of the prayers, hymns and readings were in Arabic.