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Married dad becomes Maronite Catholic priest in US

Married Priest

BY JIM SALTER
ASSOCIATED PRESS

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- 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.

"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. 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.

"He'll be a wonderful priest," said 54-year-old Linda Hill. "The fact that he's married will be exciting for the church. It's tradition in the old country. I guess we're finally catching up to the old country."

Stephanie Baker, a 57-year-old lifelong member of the church, agreed.

"I really think it sets a precedent," Baker said. "There are a lot of people who have it (the priesthood) in their hearts. This opens it up for other people."

That remains to be seen. Peters said the pope's action does not lift the ban on married priests in the U.S., but that it's simply an exception

Experts, too, cautioned against reading too much into it.

"This is certainly not an automatic indication that the mandate of celibacy within Roman rite will be overturned," said Randy Rosenberg, a theological studies professor at Saint Louis University.

Akiki, 41, emigrated from Lebanon in 2002, and almost immediately became a subdeacon at St. Raymond's, ascending to deacon in 2009. It was about a year-and-a-half ago that he and the church petitioned the Vatican to allow him to enter the priesthood.

Akiki completed seminary studies at Holy Spirit University in Lebanon, Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Seminary in Washington, D.C., and the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis.

He and his wife have one daughter, 8-year-old Perla. She read a brief prayer at her father's ordination.

Peters said that in the most recent Maronite Patriarchal Synod, the church reaffirmed its position in support of allowing married priests, a tradition that, worldwide, dates back centuries.

In a statement, the Archdiocese of St. Louis congratulated Akiki.

"The Archdiocese of St. Louis values its strong relationship with the Maronite community in St. Louis," the statement read in part.

Those attending the ordination applauded the new priest several times, which clearly left him moved.

"It is a day of grace and of joy," he said.

Join the discussion

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kregkit February 28 2014 at 4:49 PM

I would like to see the Roman Catholic Church allow priests to marry. This was the norm in the church for over one thousand years. Those who wish to remain single and celibate could do so.
Having a family and children isn't something a priest should have to give up. There's nothing unholy about this. Catholics would readjust to what was one allowed. I'm also in favor of ordaining women. There are many holy women who would a great credit to the church. No need to tell me that I'm a liberal Catholic.

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1 reply
d1anaw kregkit February 28 2014 at 4:54 PM

There were many things that were once acceptable in the church. But it was changed based on the personal preference and prejudices of whoever was in charge at a given period of time, including the Bible and it's contents and the interpretation of such. That's why it's so laughable when some profess to throw the authority of the church or Bible around as the ultimate truth. They make it whatever they want it to be when they want it. And then they are shocked when others don't buy into it.

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3 replies
twosofies February 28 2014 at 3:42 PM

Just wondering I know there is a National Catholic Church but there is also a Roman Catholic Church,which is he from?

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2 replies
skiyourbunsoff twosofies February 28 2014 at 4:04 PM

Neither. He is a member of the Maronite Catholic church.

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frozenbull twosofies February 28 2014 at 4:06 PM

His boss isn't Pope Francais . Does that answer your question ?

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Sonny February 28 2014 at 3:38 PM

Long overdo, I think it will help all parishioners better understand the religion aspect of seeing a Priest and his family standing and greeting everyone as they leave the mass will be exhilarating.

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rocklob22 February 28 2014 at 3:37 PM

they should any preist get married if they want to ,same thing with Nuns there would be a lot more wonderful people in the catholic church

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1 reply
twosofies rocklob22 February 28 2014 at 3:47 PM

I don't think there would be a lot more people in the Catholic Church, if priests were allowed to get married,that wouldn't have any effect if the person didn't follow Catholic teachings in the first place.Im Catholic and that would not affect the way I practice my religion.
It might affect the scandal with children in the church,but that happens in other religions too,not just Catholics.

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jcajiao February 28 2014 at 3:36 PM

I hope and I pray God that the Roman Catholic Church will allow priests to get married, so many more men will come to the service of the church as priests.

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2 replies
Whasup Jobe jcajiao February 28 2014 at 4:07 PM

Gays are getting married so why not Catholic priests. I don't see any difference.

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frozenbull jcajiao February 28 2014 at 4:17 PM

I can't wait until you don't have to go the confession at all ..can go the Mass when you feel like it ... priest can get married . .. nuns can date ... and the Pope is a women . So many really solid ideas here today I thought I'd just add a few of my own ... Oh and what about pets as alter servers . It'll be one be love fest

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GERONIMO February 28 2014 at 3:32 PM

All priest shoule be married if they choose.
Hopefully this will open the doors for all.

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vlvbigsky February 28 2014 at 3:26 PM

In all the comments, one thing I find most interesting is no mention of nuns being allowed to be married. I have no problem with either a married man being a priest or a nun being married, as I also have no problem with women (married or not) being priests.

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1 reply
Pearltrans vlvbigsky February 28 2014 at 3:50 PM

And monks?

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dbobmcch February 28 2014 at 3:25 PM

That's great! The Catholic Church must let prists to marry, That would be a good solution for certain problem inside it.

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jhmc February 28 2014 at 3:23 PM

More priests should be allowed to marry. It is a natural way of life for most men and should not be forbidden to those who give their lives to God.

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galassog February 28 2014 at 8:14 PM

Right now with what's going here in the Archdiocese of Newark with Archbishop Myers, maybe
this priest will be better than what we have leading our diocese.

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