The Maronite Catholic Church in the United States has ordained a married man to the priesthood for the first time in nearly a century after Pope Francis gave his permission.
Deacon Wissam Akiki was ordained in a service at St Raymond's Maronite Cathedral in St Louis, Missouri last Thursday. His wife and eight year old daughter were present.
The Maronite Church is one of several Eastern Catholic Churches that accept the authority of the Pope but keep their own liturgies. In the Middle East many Eastern-rite priests are married but the Vatican banned married men from becoming Eastern Rite priests in the USA during the 1920s, after Roman Catholic bishops complained that it was confusing for parishioners.
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 John Paul II called for greater acceptance of Eastern Catholic traditions.
Deacon Louis Peters, chancellor at St Raymond's Church said the fact that Pope Francis has allowed Deacon Akiki to be ordained does not mean that the general ban on married priests has been lifted.
Fr Akiki emigrated from the Lebanon in 2002, and became a subdeacon, and then a deacon at St Raymond's in 2009. After receiving permission from the Vatican, he trained to be a priest at Holy Spirit University in Lebanon, Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Seminary in Washington, DC, and the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St Louis.
In a statement, the Archdiocese of St Louis congratulated Akiki, and said: "The Archdiocese of St Louis values its strong relationship with the Maronite community in St Louis."
Source: Archdiocese of St Louis, Facebook/AP