A Divine Wind Opening Doors

How a year abroad helped me to walk the road to faith.

"Yahweh said to Abram, 'Leave your country, your kindred and your father's house for a country which I shall show you.” (Gen 12:1)

I am Juan Collado, I’m a 20 year-old Spanish student studying Humanities+Translation & Interpreting, and I have just finished an Erasmus year at the University of Bristol. When I was first recommended to do an Erasmus year, I thought it a good idea for two reasons: I needed to increase my fluency in English, and I needed to have some experience on my own. However, God managed to meddle with my plans.

The year before going on my Erasmus year, I was spending my first year of university in Seville. There, I saw God everywhere. I lived my faith in a parish, supported by a community, and with the continuous encouragement of the Catholic society of my university. Why was I about to leave Seville behind and take off to an unknown city? It had been so wonderful a year that I thought going abroad would mean turning my back on God. The devil tried to tempt me: “You know, perhaps this Catholic stuff isn’t your thing… Try to have a year on your own and let’s see…”

The truth is, I had little chance of keeping my faith on my own. This might be the reason why the Lord, who knows me and provides for me, had other intentions for my Erasmus year, and I had to change my original plans. A week before leaving Spain, the University of Bristol notified me that they had no accommodation left for me, even though I had arranged all the paperwork.

It was no coincidence that I had just been on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela that summer. One of the intentions I prayed for was my Erasmus, that God kept His hand on me.

Along the way to Santiago, I met somebody who knew somebody who was living in Bristol. I saved his number and felt happy to have some contacts in Bristol. When I found myself without accommodation, I phoned him to see if he could give me some advice on rental accommodation, private residences, etc. His help was way more than I asked for: he offered me a room in the house he was living in.

Now, let’s talk about the house. It was heaven-sent. All my housemates were young Catholics. We went to Mass together, prayed the Divine Office on Sundays, and said the Rosary in the middle of the week. God had me well cared for! From wondering about an “agnostic” year to living the faith so vigorously. Sundays marked the beginning and the end of every week, a perfect occasion for praying together and for listening to God’s Word, and to one another.

A road of learning opened up ahead of me. These guys taught me how to pray in solitude, how to say grace – I had never done it at my home, and I now think it is a good habit that makes us grateful for what we have everyday. I even learned how to cook, thanks to their patient instructions (my first Spanish omelette was made in Bristol). Thanks to them, I got to know different people in Bristol, families who were so kind to us, friends we went out with… Above all, it was their attitude of openness to Divine Providence and God’s will that struck me the most.

There, the Catholic Chaplaincy, assisted by Fr Rupert Allen, carries out an important mission. It is the place where God’s presence among the youth becomes concrete, through His Word and His Love. Believers may liken the Catholic Chaplaincy to an old inn for pilgrims, as it provides students with spiritual nourishment for their journey. The Chaplaincy becomes a second home where you can stop on the way throughyour daily lives, and hence it is like an old inn that welcomes travellers and pilgrims. It is the place where you can stop and embrace silence in contemplation of the Holy Sacrament. When you leave the chaplaincy, you are strengthened and ready to keep going.

The spiritual rest you receive develops, in many ways, into an active kind of rest. You can find peace even when everything around seems to be busy. Lots of activities fill the weekly calendar of the chaplaincy: prayer groups, talks, dinners, volunteering… Next to the chapel, there is the chaplaincy house where the Catholic Society meets. I used to go to their living room for a cup of tea, for a chat, or for studying in their little library. A trip following the footsteps of St Newman, Tolkien and Lewis in Oxford made me realise the value of offering my study to God.

To sum up, the Lord has proven to be walking with me throughout this year. I am very grateful for this experience, and it is very clear to me that God has used it to great effect in my spiritual journey. The difficult part, yet perhaps the most crucial, is to trust in Him while everything seems to be falling down. But Jesus Himself, who has been present in all these experiences, friendships and events, can make it possible. Now, in the middle of this pandemic, I pray that He may give hope to humankind and console everyone who needs to be comforted. I also pray that He may give me a portion of the patience of Job to praise God in good times as in bad times. This way, I could say with him, “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.

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