Tuesday 18 March 2008

Cursillo 50 Years of Challenge In North America

Cursillo 50 Years of Challenge

The Cursillo, or Cursillo de cristianidad, -the little course in Christianity- started fifty years ago, in the format that we know it in today. But just what it is, who is involved, how it spreads, and where it is going are questions that are hard to answer. Even for those who have made a weekend, Cursillistas, the answers are not clear cut. I will be looking at some of the history, format and direction of this group. But most importantly I will be looking at
it's purpose, it's goal.
Cursillo started as a renewal movement among men in Spain. The first course, that resembles those of today, was run in January 1949. Within a very short time, the need for weekends for women was recognised. By 1952 the course was taking place in the States, both in Spanish and in English. It grew out of a need for men to become more involved in the church again. It was brought to the US by Spanish airmen who were training in Texas.
The course focuses on: "The participants live in a close community atmosphere for a period of 3 days for the purpose of trying to help each other achieve a deeper and richer appreciation of their life in Christ." It also attempts to define what the community should be at it's core. It is an attempt to apply Christianity to all areas of one's life. It was also hoped that it would help to bring about some of the reforms that were proposed in the Vatican II: "Many thought it was helping to usher in the new age of renewal by putting into practice the emphasis on personalism and community of contemporary pastoral theology and of the documents of the Vatican Council." But in order to do this it had to work inner change in the participants, Pope John Paul II put it this way, "The purpose of evangelism is therefore precisely this interior change." Thus we can see that Cursillo is about inner change, within the participants. Frank Briganti puts it this way, "It is rather an Impulse, a movement towards restoring Christ in society by means of individual renovation." therefore Cursillo is not meant to be a movement, but a practical living out of faith, a way of life. Dominick Wiseman described Cursillo this way, "Cursillo is not focused on doing, it is about being, we are called to be followers of Christ, to be Christ for others." Thus Cursillo can not be seen as an end in itself, but it is the beginning. The participants are to take back to their lives what they learn. It should be the introduction to something better, more fulfilling. "The main thrust is to encourage and support people where they are, in the workplace, factory, office, sports club, local neighbourhood and parish." At the National Cursillo Centre they state, "This weekend should be pictured as an introduction to something better, not as an end in itself." Pope John Paul II gave this command in his address to the national Ultreya: "You, members of the "Cursillos of Christianity", must then be the ferment in the various environments of modern society in order to make today's man meet the look of Christ the Saviour. ... concerned with being evangelical leven in the places where you live and work." But Cursillo also realized that we cannot do this alone.
One of the mainstays of the group is grace, the key verse from the bible for this is; "the one who began the good work among you will being it to completion." At the end of the weekend when you are given a cross you are told "Christ is counting on you.", Pope John Paul II expanded this and stated " Christ is counting on you, and you can count on his grace." But we can not do this by ourselves, we need others. This community aspect of Cursillo, challenges participants to meet in both Group Reunion and Ultreya. In small groups of 4-6 and in large groups of many groups. In the small groups you share in what is happening, you are vulnerable, open and care for and support each other. We help each other to persevere in living the Christian life. In the Ultreya we are encouraged and challenged by the greater community.

Cursillo has grown fast and furious in North America, since it's introduction in 1952, by the late 1960's: "More then 100,000 Catholics in this country have made the Cursillo," and in 1980, "An estimate of more than 75,000 people who make a Cursillo each year in the 135 American dioceses in the US where some 750,000 persons have completed the three-day period of spiritual renewal". As can be seen by these numbers Cursillo is growing exponentially. It has been growing by 50000 people a year, and it doesn't show any sign of slowing.
Cursillo has also been changing with the times; they recently changed some of the terminology so that it would be more current. "Piety is now Holiness, Study is now Formation, Action is now Evangelization" Although Cursillo is also inherently Catholic, "It is not that the Cursillo should be for catholics only but that the Cursillo be denominational because the program should be true to each denomination's particular teachings, dogma, liturgy, ect." But in remaining Catholic it is sharing this tool of growth. Thus the Cursillo is in the control of the Cursillo secretariat, the catholic Cursillo, licenses other denominations to run their own courses. These other denominations must sign an agreement to stay true to the goals and purposes of the Cursillo. They also conform as much as they can to the catholic weekend, as far as they can in faith. An example is Mary and the rosary are not part of the Lutheran "Walk to Emmaus", or the Presbyterian "Cursillo". But Cursillo does encourage group and Ultreya that can be ecumenical.

One of the biggest area's of Cursillo growth is in prisons in the US, where they run catholic Cursillo and where there is also a new ministry called Karios, and ecumenical Cursillo for prisoners.
Where Cursillo is going is hard to tell, it is still spreading even if at a slower rate then was anticipated. It is spreading across denominations and around the world. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Hamilton in his letter "Renew 2000" challenged those in his diocese to be more ecumenical, and to this end 2 Cursillistas have undertaken to arrange an Ontario wide, interdenominational Ultreya in the year 2000, and smaller events in cities across the province. There are also plans underway for a World Ultreya in Rome, "World Ultreya will be held on July 24th, 2000 in Rome with the Pope presiding."

So Cursillo is still going forward and challenging people to community and to be Christ to the world.


  1. Christ to the World, Volume 7 1962, p.161
  2. Modern Catholic Encyclopaedia, p.548
  3. L'Osservatore Romano, 20th May 1985, p.9
  4. The Priest, January 1962, p.33
  5. The Tablet, 12th April 1997 p.467
  6. The Tablet, 12th April 1997 p.466
  7. Http://www.natl-cursillo.org/faq.html
  8. L'Osservatore Romano, 20th May 1985, p.9
  9. Philippians 1:6, NRSV
  10. L'Osservatore Romano, 20th May 1985, p.9
  11. America, April 29th 1967, p.616
  12. US Catholic, January 1980, p.29
  13. Http://www.natl-cursillo.org/faq.html
  14. Http://www.natl-cursillo.org/faq.html
  15. Http://www.natl-cursillo.org/world.html

Ultreya Medieval Spanish for "Onward", or "keep going". It is a weekly meeting in
which there is further explanation of faith or morals but in a setting similar
to that of a Cursillo.

Cursillo (cursillo de cristianidad) "the little course in Christianity". A movement of the church which by means of it's own method makes it possible for people to live
what is fundamental for being a Christian, and to live it together, it helps people
discover and fulfill their personal vocations, and it promotes the creation of
core groups of Christians who leaven their environments with the Gospel.
Group Reunion The group reunion has two elements - the group (of persons) and the
reunion (the group coming together). Combined, the two elements constitute the total reality of a group reunion, which can be defined as a group of Christian
friends who gather together on a regular basis to become better friends and
better Christians.

Holiness is developed by Morning devotions, prayer life, worship attendance, Communion and spiritual retreats.

Formation is study. God's presence is realized through reading Holy Scriptures, and daily Spiritual Guides, Our Horizons are widened through reading Religious publications, Denominational newspapers, and religious magazines.

Growth in religious understanding is achieved through attending, bible studies,
Church school classes, and religious seminars.

Evangelization Is what we do during the week so Christ will be better known and loved in your: family, vocation, community, small group, and Christian community.

Note: All deffinitions come from the following two web pages.


Modern Catholic Encyclopaedia, article on "Cursillo",
Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN; 1994

Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version,
World Publishers, Iowa falls, Iowa; 1989


Benet, J. Hervas. The Cursillos de cristianidad: A magnificent Instrument of Christian Renewal and of the Apostolic Conquest, in Christ to the World, 1962 Vol. 7 p.161-168

Pope John Paul II. 'Cursillos' are an instrument brought about by God to announce the Gospel in our age, in L'Osservatore Romano, Rome 20th May 1985 p.9 (Reprint of Sermon Given Saturday April 20th 1985 to Ultreya)

Not Attributed. Attack on Cursillo, in America, April 29th 1967, p.616

Wiseman, Dominick. A Weekend For Christ, in Tablet, 12th April 1967, p.466,467

Reilly, Robert T. Is The Cursillo Movement Winding Down, in US Catholic, Janurary 1980 p.25-30

Brigant, Frank. The 'Cursillo' Makes it's Way, in The Priest, Janurary 1962 p.33-38

Web Pages

The National Cursillo Centre - Frequently Asked Questions

The National Cursillo Centre - World Cursillo Events

(First wriutten for RS 100H Catholicism Winter 1999.)

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