The History of the Cursillo Movement
The Cursillo Movement is a movement of the Catholic Church. The name Cursillo is Spanish, meaning short course, and is often associated with a 3-Day weekend – which is only one aspect of the Cursillo Movement. The proper name is Cursillo de Cristiandad (short course of Christianity). There is much more to the Cursillo Movement than just a 3-Day weekend.
This Movement evolved from Spain, where it got its origin, in the 1940s. The Cursillo Movement did not develop by accident. It began when a group of men dedicated themselves to bringing the young men of their city of Mallorca, Spain, to know Christ better. It developed as they prayed and worked together; it developed as they talked together, sharing their thoughts about the state of the world and the effectiveness of their efforts to bring the light of Christ to it. On the natural level alone, the story of the Cursillo Movement is exciting. It’s a story filled with the adventure of new discoveries and works of outstanding dedication, tragic misunderstandings and setbacks, as well as impressive patience. These young men and the clergy who supported them endured many unpromising situations in the faith that God would work.
But it is even more an exciting story on the spiritual level. It is the story of how God taught a group of men how to work for Him in an effective way, a way that bears fruit. In the late 1940s, the first Cursillo was given and the Cursillo Movement began. Those who make a Cursillo today would find much of the first Cursillo familiar. The Cursillo has been refined and changed somewhat, but today’s Cursillo weekend remains basically the same as those first Cursillos.
It was, however, no accident that the first Cursillo was so fully formed that a movement could begin from that date. The first Cursillo was neither a lucky accident nor a blueprint which came directly from heaven, but grew out of a process of development. Nor were the first leaders just a chance collection of men. They had been working together for some time trying to bring men to Christ so they could work together to Christianize the world.
But the Cursillo, on the other hand, was not just a well worked out human product. It grew in the climate of spiritual renewal. It was developed by men of prayer who were seeking to serve the Lord. It was formed by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit working in men who had dedicated themselves to bringing others to a knowledge of Christ.
The Cursillo Movement came to birth in the movements of renewal that preceded the second Vatican Council. Vatican II was such a major event in the history of the modern Catholic Church that there is a certain tendency to date everything from the Council. But Vatican II was itself born out of an effort of spiritual and pastoral renewal that had begun years before. The liturgical movement, the scriptural renewal, Catholic Action and other movements of the lay apostolate had begun years before the Council. Everywhere in the Church, people were seeking to find ways of “bringing the Church to life in the hearts of men” (Romano Guardini). The Cursillo Movement came from the work of such individuals.
The first stirrings of what later was to become the Cursillo Movement began on the Island of Mallorca during World War II. The Spanish Civil War had ended in 1939, and the years after the Civil War were a time of ferment in the Spanish Church. Before the war, a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James at Compostela had been planned. This spiritual journey to the great Spanish pilgrimage center of the Middle Ages would provide a time for the young men and women of Spain to dedicate themselves in a renewed way to the work of the apostolate. After being postponed several times by the disruption of war, it was finally rescheduled for 1948.
The pilgrimage set a tone. The spirit of pilgrimage is a spirit of restlessness, of dissatisfaction with spiritual lukewarmness, of moving onward, of “ultreya .” It is also a spirit of brotherhood among fellow pilgrims who are striving together to reach the goal of a life fully given to the love of God and man. The pilgrim style has marked much of the spirituality of the Cursillo Movement.
Preparation for the pilgrimage gave rise to efforts of renewal in the different Catholic Action groups in Spain, among them the branch for young men in the diocese of Majorca. As a result of the preparations for the pilgrimage there was greater interest in finding an effective way to work apostolically. The groups responsible for preparations for the pilgrimage to St. James were the diocesan councils for the young men’s branch of Catholic Action. Catholic Action was the official organization of the lay apostolate in Spain (and in many other countries). Most organized efforts of Catholic laity taking part in the work of the Church were part of Catholic Action (which was supported and directed by the hierarchy). In Spain, Catholic Action was divided into the men’s branch, the women’s branch, the young men’s branch and the young women’s branch. The leaders of the young men’s branch on the island of Majorca were the founders of the Cursillo Movement. Those who first developed the Cursillo Movement worked together as a team from the very beginning.
They worked as a leaders’ team that prayed together, shared their Christian lives together, studied together, planned together, acted together and evaluated what they had done together. Together they worked at the task of forming Christian life among the young people in Majorca. Out of their common efforts, something new in the life of the Church was born. Church renewal, spiritual renewal, pastoral renewal, the pilgrim style, a pastoral plan, teamwork among leaders – the Cursillo Movement grew out of all these things. It developed not by accident nor through a clearly specified plan, but was an organic development of the efforts of a group of men who had dedicated themselves to the work of God.
At first, the Cursillos were just “little courses” (little course is the literal meaning of the Spanish word – Cursillo) which were given by the diocesan council of the young men’s branch of Catholic Action. They were given to members of Catholic Action groups as a way of forming them so they could become effective apostles.
The first Cursillo in the United States was held in Waco, Texas, in 1957. The key figures in the beginning were Father Gabriel Fernandez and two airmen from Spain, Bernardo Vadell and Agustin Palomino, who were training with the United States Air Force. Father Gabriel had arrived in Waco in 1955 from Spain where he had made his three days under two of the founders of the movement, Father Juan Capo and Eduardo Bonnin. The priest and the airmen were responsible for putting on the first two weekends in Waco.
Airmen Vadell and Palomino were transferred to Mission, Texas, just after they had completed the second weekend in Waco. By late 1957, the traveling airmen had put on the first weekend in Mission. In 1958, they started a center in Laredo, Texas, and soon after, the movement was introduced in Corpus Christi.
In 1959, the Cursillo spread throughout Texas and to Phoenix, Arizona. In August of that year the first national convention of spiritual directors was held, and Ultreya magazine began publication. In 1960, the growth of the Cursillo quickened in the Southwest, and weekends were held for the first time in the East in New York City and Lorain, Ohio.
Until 1961, all weekends were held in Spanish. That year the first English-speaking weekend was held in San Angelo, Texas. Also in 1961, first weekends were held in San Francisco, California; Gary, Indiana; Lansing, Michigan; and Gallup, New Mexico. By 1962, twenty-five more English-speaking weekends had been held.
In 1962, the Cursillo Movement came to the Eastern United States. Weekends were held in Cincinnati, Brooklyn, Saginaw, Miami, Chicago, Detroit, Newark, Baltimore, Grand Rapids, Kansas City and Boston. In the West, the first weekends were held in Monterey, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Pueblo and Yakima.
The movement spread rapidly with the early centers carrying the Cursillo to nearby dioceses. As of 1981, almost all of the 160 dioceses in the United States had introduced the Cursillo Movement.
The Cursillo Movement in the United States was organized on a national basis in 1965. At this meeting a National Secretariat was organized, and a National Cursillo Office (currently in Dallas, Texas) was established.
The Cursillo Movement has the support of the vast majority of the American hierarchy. It is joined to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops through an official liaison in the person of Most Rev. James S. Sullivan, Bishop of Fargo, and through the Bishops’ Secretariat for the Laity in Washington, D.C.
Today, it is a worldwide movement with centers in nearly all South and Central American countries, the United States, Canada, Mexico, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Great Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Yugoslavia, Australia, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and in several African countries. The movement is a member of the International Catholic Organizations of the Pontifical Council for the Laity in Rome. In 1980, the Cursillo Movement established an international office, the OMCC (Organismo Mundial de Cursillo’s de Cristiandad), in Santo Domingo to coordinate the three existing international working groups of Latin America, Europe and the International English Language Group. The international leaders of the movement meet periodically to further its work.
At one of these meetings in Rome in 1966, Pope Paul VI had the opportunity to address the movement. Among his words of encouragement were the following:
“Cursillo de Cristiandad, that is the word, purified through experience, affirmed by its fruits, that today travels with citizenship papers throughout the world …”
“Whether some methods become obsolete, whether new manifestations of the Spirit arise, 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 layman, upon forming himself in Christianity, reforms his mentality and conforms his life to Christ’s image by means of faith, hope and charity; acting with complete responsibility he transforms the temporal structures in which he is immersed, guided in his action by the glance of Christ he continually tries to remake the world according to God’s plan and design ….”
“We know that in your plan of spirituality and apostolate in the Cursillo Movement the ‘Sensus Ecclesiae’ (mind of the Church) is the guiding light that orients you ….”
“Beloved sons and daughters: Our soul is so oppressed by the vision of the evils which afflict the Church and mankind. But permit us to express our overwhelming joy that, at this moment, floods our soul before the immense chorus of your manly faith in Christ, your fidelity to the Church, your fervent loyalty to this Chair of Peter and to the ministry of the episcopal hierarchy.”
“Cursillo de Cristiandad! Christ, the Church, the Pope, are counting on you!”
Pope Paul VI, First World Ultreya, Rome, May 28,1966
In 1980, Pope John Paul II, addressing the first National Italian Ultreya in Rome said,
“Your movement, which recently celebrated its thirtieth anniversary, devotes itself to drawing forth from Christians a commitment to live lives consistent with their faith whether individually or as a community – and to bring this ferment to the environments where you live.”
“You have discovered anew the explosive truth of the evangelical message: 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.”
“In her, we are truly able to experience even now the love which will be the inexhaustible fountain of eternal joy in heaven. Here then is the synthesis of all of Christianity. This is the news that all human hearts hope for without realizing it. Therefore dedicate yourselves more and more to being tireless apostles in your environments.”
“My apostolic blessing goes with you as a pledge of this divine grace which enables you to live forever.”