Father Andrei Paz, China

Father Paz, 36, grew up in the coastal town of Bangar in the northern Philippines. A great-uncle he kept in touch with via letters was a missionary priest with the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who served in the Dominican Republic and Mexico.

"You get fascinated with all of this," Father Paz said. "The thought of being a missionary priest started really early."

He met the Columban Fathers when several visited his Catholic high school on a vocations day. He liked the order’s call to serve the poor and marginalized, and he spent two years in the seminary, then quit. He didn’t feel the call, he said.

But he still wanted to serve others and live in solidarity with the poor, Father Paz said. He lived with a family in Barrio Luz, one of the poorest areas in Cebu in the Philippines. He wanted to find a job, remain in the area, help where he could.

The Columbans stayed in touch, and his own interest did not disappear. He wrote the principal of his high school, seeking advice from the religious sister, and her reply helped, Father Paz said. ‘"There are very many more Barrio Luz’s in the world,’" he said, remembering what she wrote. ‘"Maybe they need you.’"

The people he works with now are in China, a challenging place where priests and those in consecrated life have to live their vocations "in ways that you don’t agitate the authorities," Father Paz said. "The government has one eye open, one eye shut."

Most recently, Father Paz has been studying occupational therapy at Creighton University in Omaha, to help the physically challenged in China, who often are neglected.

"There’s a stigma in China against people of disabilities," he said, and if a potential disability is detected in the womb, such babies often are aborted.

"This is an important work," Father Paz said, "where I can be involved in the life of a child."

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