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His family, however, was another matter. Back home, Mr. Maher’s mother and father tried repeatedly to convince him he was making a mistake. They wanted their son to marry and have children.

After months of disagreement, they came to realize the young man had already made up his mind; he would not budge. Finally, they gave him their blessing.

“Now, I feel that my family is happy that I made this choice,” he says. “They are proud they can give one of the family to the consecrated life.”

Mr. Maher believes the time he spent in the secular world before he entered the seminary was useful. “These experiences helped me,” he explains. “Now, I do not say ‘If only I had worked or had money or had a romantic relationship, I would have been happier.’ I have already experienced that. And I’m happier now.”

Al Wasta is located about six miles from the city of Assiut, some 230 miles south of Cairo. It is an island in the Nile. The town has some 40,000 people, about 7,000 of whom are Christian. The village has only one church: Virgin Mary Coptic Catholic Church.

Al Wasta is a place Mr. Maher knows well. It is the village he calls home.

One day, he meets us at the Assiut Railway Station and drives us to his home. At the entrance of the village, a friend of his, Deacon Boutros Yousef Yacoub, 31, is waiting for us. On our way to the seminarian’s home we collect another friend, Gergis Attia, 29, a secondary-school English teacher.

We pass through a gate into a compound of several older houses; all belong to the extended family of the Rev. Stephanos Gergis, who is pastor of the parish, which his family had built. The pastor has known the aspiring priest for most of his life.

“Since his childhood, Amir regularly attended and served in the church,” Father Gergis says. “Amir told me, ‘I will not serve the world. I want to serve only God.’ He left everything and has started to do that.”

Mr. Maher’s friends thought it would be difficult for him to leave his job and return to Egypt to become a priest.

“Amir’s decision to join the seminary was unexpected,” Mr. Attia says. “But Amir has clear and organized thinking. When he has a goal, he follows every step to reach it. He does not like to show off. He puts God in his life strongly, which is why I think he will be a good shepherd.”

The seminarian has two older married brothers; one of them now lives in Canada. His father is a retired civil servant and his mother is a retired teacher. They live in a newly built house. The family also owns some land and houses that belong to his uncles.

But none of that seems to interest the young man; when he visits the village on vacations, his parents say, he spends most of the time in the church.

“He does not do anything but church,” says Maher Gad Al Rab Zakhary, his father. “When he comes to visit, he does not have time for us to enjoy sitting with him. All his time and thinking is at the church. I tried to dissuade him for three months but this way has been in his mind since an early age.”

His son, he says, has always had a generous heart.

“In school,” he adds, “he always shared his meals with his friends.”

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