Gananoque, Ontario, July 26 -- Four women were ordained priests and five womenordained deacons in a ceremony on the St. Lawrence River Monday (July 25)that the official Roman Catholic Church considers invalid.

Three female bishops -- two of whom have been excommunicated -- presidedat the nearly three-hour service that challenged the church's longstandingban on ordaining women.

"I firmly believe that we need to break this unjust law and thereforechange the system," Bishop Patricia Fresen of South Africa said Sundayduring a press conference.

According to official Catholic teaching, male-only priesthood dates toJesus' selection of men as his apostles.

It's time that changed, said Sister Patricia Bergan, a member of thewomen's religious community the Sisters of St. Francis and an administratorat St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Syracuse, N.Y.

When Bergan, Cathy Gregory, and Meme Woolever, all of Syracuse, heardabout the event, they decided to drive to the eastern Ontario town to see ifthey could participate. After waiting in the hot sun on the pier for morethan an hour, they were allowed on the boat.

"This is great," Bergan said. "It's history."

The event was organized by RC Women priests, an international group ofCatholics who advocate women's ordination. Participants and many of thewitnesses at the ordination said they are willing to risk excommunicationbecause they envision a church in which women can fully participate.

Fresen was ordained a priest in Spain in 2003 and was recentlyconsecrated a bishop. Bishops Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger of Austria andGisela Forster of Germany were ordained as part of the "Danube Seven," womenordained in 2002 on the Danube River and later excommunicated.

The ceremony began with the beating of a drum and two Native Americansongs led by an Algonquin woman. Waves gently rocked the boat as it traveledthrough international waters, which organizers say is beyond thejurisdiction of any diocese.

Several times, the crowd of mostly women broke into extended applauseand cheers at the mention of "women priests" and a reference to the churchhierarchy as "stuck in the harbor." Clergy, including at least five menwearing stoles that typically signify they are priests, processed down theaisle between rows of benches as the crowd sang, "Here I Am, Lord."

During the ordination, the candidates for the diaconate and thepriesthood were called forward one by one.

"Here I am, and I'm ready," they each said.

Friends, spouses or relatives introduced the candidates and attested totheir worthiness for the role.

"I know this is her calling and her passion," Don Reynolds said of hiswife, Dana Reynolds, who was ordained a deacon. "When she said, `I do,' afew moments ago, I knew she really meant it."

The deacons received blue stoles and Bibles. The bishops later anointedthe hands of the new priests, who also received red stoles and Eucharisticcups.

"It is with great joy we present to you our women priest(s),"Mayr-Lumetzberger said, drawing loud cheers and applause. Some of the newpriests wiped away tears, and many in the audience were crying.

The newly ordained women called their ordinations a spiritual andpolitical act they hope will bring about change. "We are one step forward tobeing the kind of church Jesus envisioned," Fresen said.

Some critics have said the women made light of the ceremony by having iton a boat. Not so, the women say.

The boat has long been a symbol of the church, they say. And waterelicits images of creation as seen in Genesis in the Hebrew Bible and Gospelstories of Jesus ministering on the water.

"It's also to say to go against the tide, to trust God,"Mayr-Lumetzberger said. "This is wonderful to see the church as a big boat.It is flowing and life-giving and moving. It's not fixed."

But Archbishop Anthony G. Meagher of Kingston, Ontario, the closestRoman Catholic diocese with jurisdiction, said otherwise: "It is profoundlycontrary to both the spirit and the letter of the Church's law to attempt tocreate some geographical ambiguity in an effort to legitimize one's failureto be in communion with the local Church."