Cursillo: 'Friends Making Christ Their Friend'

"To be a Christian, rather than to do Christian things," is what it means to be part of the Cursillo Movement, explains Joan Brown, whose term as lay director of Arlington Cursillo ends June 24. Cursillo is a movement in the Church that focuses on the dynamic role of the laity. It began in Spain in the early 1940s when the leaders of the young men’s branch of Catholic Action there "dedicated themselves to bringing the young men of Mallorca, Spain, to know Christ better." They prayed and worked together, "sharing their thoughts about the state of the world and the effectiveness of their efforts to bring the light of Christ to it." In the years after the Spanish Civil War, a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James the Apostle had been planned, but was postponed until 1948 because of the turmoil brought about by World War II. The spirit of this pilgrimage is described as one of "restlessness, of dissatisfaction with spiritual lukewarmness, … of moving onward," or, ultreya, the Spanish for "onward." The first Cursillo, or "short course of Christianity," was given in the late 1940s and the modern Cursillo Weekend follows its original form. The climate of spiritual renewal that preceded the Second Vatican Council also nurtured the growth of the Cursillo Movement. The first Cursillo in the United States took place in Waco, Texas, in 1957. The movement expanded throughout Texas and to Phoenix, Ariz. In 1959, the first national convention was held and the first Ultreya magazine was published. All weekends were conducted in Spanish until an English-language Cursillo was held in San Angelo, Texas, in 1961. Cursillo spread to Ohio, New York, California, Michigan, Florida, Boston and Washington state. A National Secretariat was formed in 1965 with a link to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. In 1966, Pope Paul VI told the members of the movement that the "permanent task of the layman will continue to be the infusion of Christianity into life through the encounter and personal friendship with God and in communion with His Brothers." The first Cursillo for men in Northern Virginia was held in April 1966 in Aquia, with a second in May 1968. In May 1969, the first Cursillo for women in Northern Virginia was held. For 17 years Clyde Cook, who died in 1999, served as lay director of the Arlington Diocesan Cursillo Movement, described as his "special apostolate." Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde concelebrated a Mass marking the Jubilee Holy Year with an estimated 300 Cursillistas at St. Anthony Church in Falls Church. The bishop spoke about his own Cursillo Weekend and how it had affected his priestly life. "He said he lives daily the effects of that weekend" (ACH 7/13/00). Today the Cursillo Movement claims 7 million participants in 57 countries and is part of the International Catholic Organizations of the Pontifical Council for the laity in Rome. Cursillo is a "gentle way of evangelization," according to Brown. It begins with "sharing your story" and "making a friend," as she did 21 years ago. While Brown was involved in Girl Scouts, she met the woman who became her sponsor in the Cursillo Movement. They developed an enduring friendship, which is still a source of encouragement. Tom Silva will become the seventh lay director of Arlington Cursillo when Brown’s term ends. Bishop Loverde will commission Silva at the closing of Cursillo Weekend on June 24. It was Silva’s wife, Esther, who first became interested in the Cursillo Movement in 1974 while Silva was in the military at Ft. Belvoir. She served as his sponsor when he made his first Cursillo Weekend in January 1975. Silva explains that the Cursillo Movement, "starts with the individual—a person making a friend with another person and these friends making Christ their friend." He sees the role of lay director as a "focal point" for a movement that is already successful and which has been well directed by Brown. Silva encourages anyone who is interested in learning more about the movement to contact him. Prospective candidates are asked to fill out an application and are put in touch with a sponsor. The Cursillo Weekend has been described as having a "powerful effect" on attendees (Cursillistas) who are made aware of the "tremendous love" that God has for them and that they are loved individually and unconditionally by Him. Three Cursillo Weekends for women and two for men are planned for 2001 in the Arlington Diocese. Cursillo Weekend is described as more of an encounter than a retreat. Sponsors accompany the approximately 22 candidates to the tranquil Missionhurst Mission Center in Arlington on a Thursday evening and leave them there. A team of 10 laypersons and a priest or sister lead the Cursillo. During the weekend the sponsor prays for the candidate and performs some form of sacrifice, or palanca, "undertaken specifically to obtain a favor from God." Thursday evening is the "retreat phase" of the three-day weekend and is held in silence with three meditations ("Know Yourself;" "The Prodigal Son" and "The Three Glances of Christ") and sometimes "The Way of the Cross." This phase ends on Friday morning after Mass. The remainder of the weekend consists of discussion, talks by leaders, Mass and reconciliation. On Friday the concentration is on helping the candidates to have a better understanding of themselves. Participants hear five presentations, three by the laity: "Ideals"; "The Layperson as the Church in the World"; and "Holiness." The spiritual directors present "Grace" and "Faith." But the table discussions "prove to be one of the real dynamics of the weekend." Participants then record their experiences in written summaries that are shared in the evening. On Saturday the candidates explore their relationship with God. Three lay presentations—"Formation," "Evangelization" and "Leaders" are given as well as two presentations by the spiritual directors—"Sacraments" and "Obstacles to a Life of Grace." As on Friday, table discussions and written summaries follow. Sunday focuses on an "understanding of ourselves, our relationship with God and how we can help Him in fulfilling His Will." A presentation by one spiritual director, "Christian Life," is followed by three lay presentations, "Study and Evangelization of the Environment," "Christian Community," and "Group Reunion and Ultreya." At the Sunday night Clausura (closing) the candidates enter the larger Cursillo community. The sponsors return to take the candidates home and "into the ‘fourth day,’ the time after the three days of Cursillo when one takes up one’s daily and lifelong task: putting Christianity into life." (Source: The Fundamental Ideas of the Cursillo Movement) Jim Auckland, a new Cursillista, reported that although he was initially hesitant about attending the Cursillo Weekend, it turned out to be "the greatest experience of my life." He explained that, "The message of Jesus was presented in a very loving and caring way." Auckland encourages anyone contemplating a Cursillo Weekend to "let our most holy and blessed mother Mary wrap her arms around you and open your eyes to a magnificent new world!" So that the Cursillo experience does not end with the weekend, there are weekly Friendship Group Reunions and Ultreyas, gatherings of Cursillistas to encourage each other in the "pilgrimage to the Father." The Cursillo Evangelization Workshop teaches that the job of Cursillistas is to find people and meet them in their own environment or workplace. Some ways in which Cursillistas interact with the community are prison ministry, Hospice, SOME (So Others Might Eat), and as lectors or Eucharistic ministers. Pope John Paul II met with 20,000 members of the Cursillo Movement in St. Peter’s Square on July 29, 2000. He told them, "You have learned to look with new eyes at persons, nature, daily events and life as a whole. Many men and women of our time…await from you the light of faith which would also make them rediscover the colors of existence and the joy of feeling loved by God" (ACH 8/3/00). Cursillo Weekends at Missionhurst Mission Center for the remainder of this year will be Oct. 11-14 for men and Nov. 15-18 for women. For information contact Tom Silva at 703/425-8167 or see the Arlington Cursillo web site,, where the application for the Cursillo Weekend can be found.

Copyright ?2001 Arlington Catholic Herald.  All rights reserved.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2001