Lianne Bernardo

Church is a refuge

By  Lianne Milan Bernardo
  • September 20, 2012

New beginnings are exciting. They’re clean slates filled with seemingly endless possibilities and opportunities to learn. And with September comes a start of another school year.

I remember feeling incredibly excited when I first started my undergraduate program in history and political science at the University of Toronto because I had a chance to study all the subjects I enjoyed.

But new beginnings can also be tough, even scary. When I began attending graduate school in the fall of 2009 at Carleton University in Ottawa, I moved away from home. While I was excited, I was also anxious: it was my first time living away from my family and I had to adjust my skills to the demands of my master’s program in European, Russian and Eurasian Studies. Then in the first semester of my second year, I participated in a semester exchange at the University of Trento in Italy. It was the first time that I travelled outside of Canada on my own. I was living in a place where English was hardly spoken outside of campus and where the culture was different from my own. I could not communicate with the locals over simple things, such as when to pick up my bus pass at the station or which sandwich I wanted to buy. At first, these experiences were daunting and isolating and left me wondering how I was going to survive everything.

To tackle these feelings of loneliness and uncertainty, one of the first things I did — aside from consulting maps and bus schedules — was find a church where I could attend Sunday Mass. Finding a parish and going to Mass every weekend was important in my transition because it helped me establish an activity outside of school. It also helped acquaint me with my new surroundings.

Churches are physical symbols of our faith and reflect the history of their communities. The cathedral in Trento has a Gothic interior with massive stone pillars and a high ceiling. It is very different from St. Patrick’s Basilica, the church I attended when I was studying in Ottawa, that contains bright and detailed artwork on its columns, beams and ceiling. But both the Trento Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Basilica provided me with a sense of comfort and, over time, a sense of refuge when everything else in life became too hectic.

Finding a church helped me cope spiritually with the changes happening in my life. It is easy to feel stressed and overwhelmed by new situations, feelings that could have prevented me from enjoying and appreciating the new journey I was on. It was important not to let those feelings take over and overshadow my goals and dreams. These churches were places where I could reflect and regain a sense of perspective on everything.

Along with prayer, taking the time every week to go to church reminded me that God is there for me every step of the way. I only need to open my heart and mind to Him. As written in Psalms 34:4, “I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” By keeping in touch with my faith, I am never alone, no matter how imposing or different my surroundings and challenges may seem. Faith is a cornerstone that always keeps me grounded.
(Bernardo, 25, lives in Toronto.)

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