Cursillo - How Does It Work?

By Rodney Williams

Cursillo has been aptly described as the "best method of Evangelism that I have seen" by Rosemae Thompson, a long-serving member of the Cursillo movement in the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

And she says this not because of the exciting and motivating weekends that are held as part of the Cursillo method, since candidates on Cursillo weekends should be baptised, confirmed Christians who are active members of their local churches. Many have found the weekends to indeed be life-transforming, but weekends are not intended to bring about repentance and salvation, but rather to be eye-opening experiences which make attendees aware of their responsibility to "transform environments" and "bring the world to Christ". These are lofty goals, but quite achievable if the Cursillo method is followed, and if each Cursillista (a person who has attended a weekend) takes his responsibility seriously.

So what is the Cursillo method?

Cursillo is a carefully articulated strategy designed to achieve its purpose. The method consists of three parts, namely: Pre-Cursillo, the three-day weekend, and fourth day.


What did Jesus do when he wanted to bring his Gospel to the world? He went out to look for certain types of individuals. He chose leaders, or potential leaders; people who had the potential to influence others. Cursillo works in the same way. Since the goal is to penetrate everyday living situations with the Christian witness, it makes sense to try to find those individuals - already active members of their churches, respected in their environments, neighbourhoods, workplaces and social circles - who have the potential to be effective witnesses.

Pre-Cursillo is composed of many activities, all directed toward identifying both environments to be penetrated by Christian witness, and those Christians who have the potential to penetrate them. Clearly, the most important of these activities is obtaining the Bishop's guidance and approval. The Bishop's guidance is usually expressed in the form of a pastoral plan, designating areas in which Christian witness is most important, and providing a basis for Cursillo's work in that diocese.

Next is the work of sponsors prayerfully identifying persons and inviting them (candidates) to become involved in Cursillo, telling candidates how Cursillo has impacted their, the sponsors' lives, and piquing the candidates' interest in having the same life-changing experience. Sponsors can invite potential candidates to group reunions and ultreyas, and into their lives - taking them to church and other events of a social nature, perhaps a sports activity, so that the potential candidates can see how a Christian can live in a largely non-Christian world. It is important to consult the potential candidate's rector or parish priest and get the Rector or Parish Priest involved in the selection process.

Once the candidate is signed up, the sponsor must commit to seeing the Candidate through his/her weekend, taking him/her to the send-off and coordinating prayer and other forms of support for them from the larger Cursillo community (Palanca) and remaining in touch with the new Cursillista for at least a year after his/her weekend. The new Cursillista must (vitally important) be introduced and encouraged to remain active in a group reunion and in ultreyas for his/her own spiritual growth and for his/her to become active in the process of transforming his/her environment.

Finally, the Pre-Cursillo involves the organisational structure of the Secretariat and the servant community. The Secretariat is the body which coordinates the Cursillo movement in a diocese under the guidance of the Bishop. The servant community is a group which continues to study the Cursillo method through the literature and its application in specific environments.

The three-day weekend

This is a weekend lived away from home in the company of other candidates and seasoned Cursillistas who comprise the team for the weekend. The weekend includes a series of talks and meditations, all of which are intended to focus the participants on "what is fundamental for being a Christian." Here, the basics are covered, with the intention of bringing the participants to an understanding that they have a ministry of witness, and to see how that ministry may be carried out.

Behind any given three-Day weekend there is much preparation and support. Many people give of their time and resources to make a weekend possible. Many persons offer their prayers (called "Palanca") in support of the candidates and the team. The team itself, made up of lay persons and clergy, will have given many hours in preparing the talks and meditations. The entire three-day weekend is centred on the sacraments - particularly the Eucharist - because in these ways God nourishes and upholds His people. In addition, every weekend contains its own "surprises" - special activities that are planned by the team in a prayerful attitude to emphasise the wonder and joy of discipleship.

It is central to the Cursillo method that three-day weekends do not exist in and for themselves. Failure to understand this is perhaps the largest stumbling block of the Cursillista. Weekends are intended to be informational, motivational and life-transforming, but should not be seen as "exciting renewal weekends" or "problem-solving retreats". Three-day weekends exist in order to help Christian leaders identify the need for Christian witness and to equip them to do so.

The fourth day

The fourth day is really the centrepiece of the Cursillo movement. It consists of three elements: spiritual direction, group reunions and ultreyas. Cursillo exists to provide Christian apostles with these tools in order to strengthen their Christian life and witness.

• Spiritual direction

To be effective, it is important for Christians to have a rule of life that includes spiritual direction. Spiritual direction is understood as having a friend and guide in the spiritual life. Often, this will be a priest, but may well be any person - clerical or lay - who is experienced in the spiritual life and who cares about the spiritual development of others. The point of spiritual direction is the realisation that we cannot and need not "go it alone" in our pilgrimage.

• Group reunion

To be effective, Christians also need a community of people with whom to share spiritual struggles and with whom to grow in apostolic action. "Grouping" is the key to the Cursillo method. Here, group members meet regularly with a few people who share their desire to be apostles of the faith. They pray together, plan ways in which they can carry out their witness and identify candidates, and give an account to one another of the progress they have made or hope to make. Apostolic action should focus on identifying candidates with a view to transforming environments. It often, to the detriment of the Method, becomes involvement in fund-raising and other activities which have their place, but which must be regarded as secondary to identifying candidates with a view to transforming environments.

• Ultreya

This peculiar word is drawn from the Spanish culture in which Cursillo developed. Ultreya is not easily translated; it was a pilgrim's call to his fellows to persevere despite hardship and difficulty. Thus, it is an important element of the Cursillo method because of its emphasis on "staying the course". Ultreyas are a drawing together of the smaller group reunions for periodic sharing and encouragement. Ultreyas are held less frequently than the group reunions. Although the form is some what different, the dynamics are essentially the same. Another feature of an ultreya is a "witness talk", which is provided by a lay person, and is centered on how he or she is carrying out planned apostolic action. This talk is followed by responses from the community, and then a clergyperson connects the specific witness with the Gospel message. None of the activities of the fourth day is intended to become a replacement for regular parish participation. That is why separate Eucharistic services, for example, are discouraged as a part of these activities. Furthermore, non-Cursillistas are invited and encouraged to take part in these fourth day activities.

As a teacher and lecturer, I am moved to ask readers, particularly Cursillistas, how has this article helped you to understand the Cursillo method? Has it helped you to discern what is your role in making the Cursillo method work? Do you now realise that "Christ is counting on you?"


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