Columbans Elect First Society Leader from the Philippines

Jun 7, 2024

It is with great joy and after a period of prolonged discernment, prayer and many conversations and dialogues in the Spirit, the Society’s General Assembly in Peru elected Fr Andrei Paz to the role of Society Leader for a period of six years.

The election our first Society Leader from the Philippines is a historic moment in the history of the Society.

Fr Andrei was ordained in 2009 and was assigned to the China Mission Unit.

In his words of acknowledgement to the Assembly, Fr Andrei thanked all those present for their trust in him and asked for their prayers, support and friendship. He said the Society was like “a boat” in which all our efforts are needed, working together as one.

We wish Fr Andrei every blessing in his new role and we send our prayers and support from the Region of Ireland.

Fr Andrei Paz

The Columban General Assembly also elected Australian Fr Peter O’Neill to the role of Society Vicar; Fr Young In Kim Gregorio to the role of Second Councillor and Fr Salustino Villalobos Mondragon to the role of Third Councillor, all for a period of six years.

Fr Peter O’Neill

Fr Young In Kim Gregorio is from Korea and was ordained in 2011. He was on mission in Peru. He started off in Lima but then took over Fr Paul Prendergast’s parish in the Andes near Cuzco, where he learned to speak the native Quechua tongue. At the moment he is Rector of the Korean Formation Programme at our seminary in Seoul.

Fr Young In Kim Gregorio

Fr Salustino Villalobos Mondragon was ordained in 2017 and is presently assigned to the Taiwan Mission Unit.

Fr Salustino Villalobos Mondragon

May the Sacred Heart of Jesus, whose Feast day we celebrated on Friday 7th June when the appointments took place, guide and strengthen the new team as they embark on this new chapter.

Interview with Fr Andrei Paz published in the Far East magazine in July/August 2018

“The Columbans are still interested in you, I hope you are still interested in us.” With those words, Columban Fr Tom Shaughnessy concluded his letter to Andrei Paz. It was an invitation which put the young philosophy graduate back on track to becoming a Columban missionary.

Thirty-six-year-old Fr Andrei is from the Philippines. He joined the Columbans in 1998 and was ordained a priest in 2009. He has since served in the Philippines, Taiwan and China. For the past three years he has been studying at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, for a doctorate in occupational therapy which he successfully graduated with in May this year.

He grew up in Bangar in the Province of La Union in the Philippines. He learnt about the Missionary Society of St Columban through a vocations campaign which brought a Columban priest to his secondary school. “At the time I was quite interested in missionary orders because I have a grand-uncle who is a missionary and he had worked in Mexico and the Dominican Republic. I used to correspond with him.”

The visiting Columban left copies of The Far East magazine and these helped Andrei to become “interested in how the Columbans do missionary work”. While the written word was helpful to him in discerning his future path, it was actually meeting Columbans that proved “more powerful”.

After he joined the Columbans in 1998, he did his initial formation in Cebu, where he studied philosophy at the University of San Carlos. But two years into formation he decided to leave. “I continued my studies at the university and lived in a very poor area with a poor family. I was planning on finding a job in Cebu where I could continue to live with and help the family.”

But he was also still feeling a tug towards the Columbans. “I thought it was all over with them. I sent a text message to my former high school principal, who was a nun, and told her that part of me wants to go back to the Columbans but part of me wants to stay here in Barrio Luz to help the people. She replied, “There are many more Barrio Luzes in the world”. I think that helped me in my decision to return to the Columbans.”

An accompaniment programme had just begun and Fr Tom Shaughnessy was “instrumental” in his decision to return and take part in the programme in 2002. “If it hadn’t been for him, maybe I would not be here today.”

Fr Andrei has an older sister, an older brother and a younger sister. His siblings and their families all live in Canada and in 2015 his parents moved there too. “It was then that it dawned on me that I now have no place to call home because if I go to the Philippines, none of my family are there and if I go to Canada, even though my family are there, I don’t really feel at home.”

After studying in Manila for two years, Fr Andrei went to Chicago to study theology. In 2006 he did his overseas missionary placement in China and later he returned to Chicago to finish his theology studies.

Immediately after ordination, “I worked for about nine months in the Columban parish of Malate in Manila. It is a very poor area and so it is a good preparation for mission. I was then sent to Taiwan in 2010.”

During his three years in Taiwan, Fr Andrei worked with the Atayals, a tribal people, who live in the mountains in the centre of the country. The Atayals are marginalised and discriminated against, he explains. “They are seen as drunkards, poor farmers and uneducated.” The role of the Columbans was to “accompany them and show them that we are interested in them and that God believes in them.”

“I enjoyed my time with the people as they didn’t really care if you were good at the language or if you could preach really well. What they cared about was that you cared about them and that you would go to their homes and eat, sing and be with them.”

Prior to his appointment to mainland China, Fr Andrei had wanted to work with people with disabilities. He had identified occupational therapy as something that would enable him fulfil this calling. But as it turned out, he was appointed to China immediately and began working as vocations coordinator after he arrived there in October 2013.

In between travelling around the country and meeting young people who were interested in exploring a vocation to Columban missionary priesthood, he visited a number of orphanages, particularly one in north west China, where there were no professionals working with the children.

“The children would wait every day to be fed. They had no activities.” He realised that if he were trained in occupational therapy he could make a difference in their lives. He was reading Pope Francis’ ‘Joy of the Gospel’ at the time and he was “inspired by the Pope’s encouragement to be creative in ministry and get your feet or hands dirty.”

His hope, having now graduated, is to return to China to practice occupational therapy there. “But I’ve seen how plans can change; I am just open to whatever comes along.”

“When Bishop Galvin, co-founder of the Columbans, encouraged the first group of Columbans in China, he said, ‘Do whatever you can’. That is the saying of Bishop Galvin’s that I like most, because we are all unique, we have different talents and skills and we have to use whatever talent we have.”

Sarah Mac Donald is the Editor of the Far East magazine

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