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The day starts early. The men wake up at 6. After morning meditation and liturgy, they have breakfast at 8:30 and then start their classes at 9. At 1:30, the school day ends and they break for lunch.

The rest of the afternoon is free. Some of the seminarians play sports or read; others catch up on their studies. On some days, they go out for dinner or a movie.

Today, Mr. Maher socializes with his colleagues in the second floor living room. Here, the seminarians spend some of their free time together — watching television, playing chess or just chatting over a cup of tea.

In the midst of this, the Rev. Bishoy Rasmy, the rector of the seminary, enters the room and hands every student an envelope containing their end-of-year evaluation and some pocket money.

“There are three aspects of life here,” Father Rasmy explains, sitting down, “the spiritual, the academic and the communal.”

Choosing the right men for that life is a complex process. In every eparchy of the Coptic Catholic Church, Father Rasmy says, there is a vocation director whose job is to discover and guide those who want to be priests. If a young man is considering the priesthood, he meets with the vocation director, who helps him discern if he has a calling. He meets with him regularly for at least a year and then, if the young man seems serious about the vocation, he takes the next step, which includes obtaining the approval of the bishop as part of the application process.

The applicants then come to the seminary for a weeklong retreat in January. At the end, they take a battery of psychological, spiritual and medical tests.

After that, a board decides who should be admitted. The seminary sends out letters, inviting those who were accepted to attend another retreat in May.

“In the first retreat, we choose,” Father Rasmy says. “In the second one, they are the ones who decide to continue or to withdraw. Some discover they do not fit into this kind of life.”

Such a life can be difficult and demanding.

“Life today now has many challenges, beside the prevalence of agnosticism and atheism. If the clergyman is not prepared, he will not succeed in his mission,” says the former rector of the seminary, the Rev. Shenouda Shafik, the priest now heads the Institute of Religious Sciences in Cairo.

“This is why they have to study for eight years. The educational system in Egypt depends on memorizing. It takes us time to help the students, to form them, to help them meet all the challenges.”

When Mr. Maher returned to his job in the United Arab Emirates, he informed his supervisors that he was planning to leave his job to become a Catholic priest. One of his bosses, a Sunni Muslim, tried to convince him to stay; another one, a Shiite Muslim, encouraged him to go. A third man, a Buddhist from India, asked him to pray for him.

His job was not the only important part of his life he had to leave behind; at the time he decided to join the seminary, he was engaged. Breaking up with his fiancée, he says, was the most difficult thing he had to do.

“It was hard,” he explains, “because I was choosing between two loves.”

But he says she made it easier for him — she not only accepted his choice, but she even encouraged and supported him.

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