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 | By Sharon Roberts

Cursillo is Friendship, the Best Path to Jesus Christ

The slogan for the worldwide Catholic Cursillo lay movement is “Make a friend, be a friend, and bring that friend to Christ.” This basic charism is that God loves us, and he wants us to share that love with others. Friendship is the best vehicle to do it.

Holy Spirit, Holy See

The Cursillos de Cristiandad (or short courses in Christianity) movement was founded by Eduardo Bonnín Aguiló in the early 1940s in Spain. While there were earlier forms, such as the Cursillo for Advanced Pilgrims Leaders that Bonnín attended, he began to refine its methodology.

Bonnín was inspired by a February 1940 message of Pope Pius XII, where the pope acknowledged that many people had begun moving away from Christian life. Pope Pius challenged Church leaders to concentrate on bringing others back to the faith and its Christian values.

The first official Cursillo was held in 1949, and the movement had spread throughout Spain. Clergy, lay men and women worked alongside Bonnín to develop the charism of Cursillo over the years, which finally coalesced into its present form in the 1950s. Bonnín spent his life and traveled the world dedicated to spreading this charism. From its simple beginnings, the movement now includes over 60 countries and 800 dioceses.

The movement is recognized by the Holy See’s Pontifical Council for the Laity as a member of the International Associations of the Faithful. It first received the blessing and support of Pope Paul VI in the mid-1960s, and later by St. John Paul II. The Church declared Bonnín a Servant of God in 2015 because of his faithfulness in bringing people to a greater awareness of Christ’s love for them.

The Basics

So, what is it and what does it do? The answers are simple. Most people are thirsting for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and each day provides opportunities to grow closer to him. Those opportunities often go ignored or are somehow missed. In the Christ-centered environment of a Cursillo, Jesus calls.

From its inception, the Cursillo experience has been a three-day weekend. The three pillars of any weekend are study, piety and action. Participants are taken on a journey that begins with them getting to know and accept themselves as they are. There are talks and personal testimonies from lay people and clergy, learning and prayer, plus opportunities for reconciliation, Mass and private reflection.

Carlos Dorthalina attended in 2005.

“Cursillo provided me with the challenge and motivation to know our Lord on a personal level,” he said. “Thursday night and Friday morning were game changers for me. The question, ‘I call myself a Christian, but do I live it?’ sent me reeling. By Saturday, I knew Cursillo was what I needed and where I needed to be. It would become my primary apostolate.”

By the last day, attendees know that the journey to the closest relationship with Christ begins inside each of us. It moves toward an understanding that we can be more and better than we are right now. Jesus is the cornerstone of that realization.

“That weekend, my life changed forever, and I have continued to grow in knowledge of and love for our Lord Jesus Christ,” Dorthalina explained.

In the Cursillo Movement, evangelization is approached “as a very natural act of being Christlike within each of our daily activities,” according to the organization’s booklet, What is Cursillo? “The Cursillo Movement provides a method and a technique to provide each of us with the tools, the mentality, the strength, and the support to make this natural type of evangelization possible.”

If you would like to grow your relationship with Christ and others across the state, ask at your parish! If there is no Cursillo group, contact Marianne Joy, communications chairperson for the South Carolina Cursillo Secretariat:

Growth and Getting to Heaven

The first Cursillo in the United States was held in Texas in 1957. By 1959, it had spread across the state and into Arizona, and was present in nearly every diocese in the U.S. by 1981.

Cursillo began in South Carolina in 1978. It was started by transplants from other states who initially met with Cursillistas from the Diocese of Charlotte, North Carolina. They trained to put on the first South Carolina weekends. Debbie Bernhagen made her Cursillo in 1978.

“When I went to Cursillo I was young, 19, but active in my church. Sister Susan told me I was going to a weekend, and you don’t argue with a nun, so I went. She saw something in me I didn’t. I learned through the weekend how Christ uses us to be his disciples ... Since that weekend, I live each day to serve our Lord however he calls,” Bernhagen said.

Currently, men’s and women’s Cursillos are held twice a year and are offered in English and Spanish.

The Fourth Day

The weekend is the first step, but Cursillo is meant to be a way of life that is shared. Cursillistas are encouraged to join a small group, or reunion, of those who support and strengthen each other and meet regularly. The two common goals of all Christian disciples are to get to heaven and to help others get there, too.

“My fellow Cursillistas encourage and support me to become more Christ-like,” Sharon Thomas said. Her Cursillo was in 1982. “I experience joy in being a kind, patient and understanding friend to influence others to find Christ also.”

Mike Solly became a Cursillista in 2008.

“At age 62, I discovered Cursillo and its profound impact; it significantly altered the course of my life,” he said. “This spiritual journey awakened me to the gifts bestowed upon me by God and ignited within me a fervor to utilize these gifts in his service. My Cursillo voyage has been an enriching odyssey, unveiling not only my spiritual potential but also my capacity for leadership, evangelism and service to both God and his Church.”

St. John Paul II addressed the first National Italian Ultreya in Rome in 1980.

“You have discovered anew the explosive truth of the evangelical message,” he said. “God, Father of all, comes to us as we encounter him in Jesus Christ to reunite us through the grace of the Spirit in one family which is the Church.”