Living a Christian life, the Cursillo way



What’s the big secret about Cursillo? It’s simply that there is no secret.

“People think it’s some sort of secret group, but it’s totally the opposite,” said Jack McGovern, Cursillista and Blessed Sacrament parishioner. “Everyone is welcome.”

The emphasis of Cursillo typically is put on the three-day weekend, which is a “short course” on the faith and a spiritual renewal. The real work begins in the Fourth Day, which, said McGovern, “is the rest of your life.”

The Fourth Day is made up of weekly and monthly meetings designed to keep Cursillistas on the right track to living, sharing and growing a Christian way of life within their communities.

That, in a very small nutshell, is the Cursillo way.

A brief history may help to dispel any mysteries. Cursillo began in the 1940s when a young men’s group in Mallorca, Spain, began praying and sharing together. The Spanish Civil War had ended, and World War II was in sight. These men saw Christianity lagging and sought to bring Christ’s light back into the world. The founders of the movement see its development as heaven sent. They felt God was showing them how to bring his word to the people.

Their sharing and coming together naturally led to the first Cursillo weekend. There, participants, called leaders, learn how to work together in a community to continuously renew through word and deed their baptismal promise.

“The weekend is not going to change you,” said McGovern. “The ‘short course’ reawakens all those things you should be doing; it’s not meant for people having difficulties with their faith.”

He compared the process to a dynamic motivational workshop, from which you leave feeling inspired but in two weeks have forgotten. The process is like one long motivational workshop, and attending the weekend is just the keynote address. The Fourth Day is all the subsequent breakout sessions.

The Fourth Day is accomplished in two ways — weekly small groups and monthly Ultreya meetings.

Ultreya is simply Spanish for moving onward. The early young men’s group used the word to described their movement that went beyond a lazy spirituality into a more vibrant faith life.

The small groups and Ultreya cover the same topics — holiness, formation and evangelization. In the weekly meetings, a group of five to six men or women reflect on moments of spiritual growth. They share commitments they’ve made to spiritual aids like prayer, devotion, Mass, and inner reflection. They also focus on continual education in forming their mentality to be more Christian. The group discusses physical tools like Scripture, books, and encyclicals which they’ve used to gain spiritual strength. And then they examine how they put these tools into action during the week. They ask how they brought about change in their environments — family, work, and neighborhood, and where their attempts to change did not work out. They reflect on their plan for evangelization and how they can implement it.

The mentality of the group is how one’s own sharing may open a door for another, rather than how another’s experience will be helpful to you.

In Ultreya meetings, the small groups come together to reflect on their spiritual growth, how their mentality has changed to be more Christian, and what they did to bring about a favorable change in others and the world.

“The world’s going to change because of you and your family and me and my family,” said McGovern. “Cursillo is meant to show you a way that you can actually do it — live a Christian way of life and be an example to others.”

Through continual examination of one’s spiritual life and sharing with others who are going through the same struggles and triumphs, Cursillo is but one way to live a Christian way of life.

Founded within the Catholic Church, the Cursillo movement has developed in several other denominations, Lutheran, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian and Anglican; there are also other ministries and groups that have formed based on Cursillo. Three years ago the different Cursillo groups in South Carolina decided a group meeting would be beneficial to all. The denominations came together for their first meeting at Immaculate Conception in Goose Creek and their second in 2000 at Holy Trinity in Orangeburg. This year St. Paul Episcopal Church in Summerville is hosting the event. It is from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sept. 29, and everyone is invited. For information, in Charleston call Jack McGovern at (843) 763-5493 or e-mail at; statewide call Gabe Timpano at (843) 651-6458.

McGovern said anyone is invited to come; they are also invited to visit a small group meeting or an Ultreya meeting without going to a weekend.

“Part of the method is showing people what it’s about,” he said.

Bishop Robert J. Baker, a Cursillista since 1998, said, “Cursillo is a positive force for spiritual renewal in the church.”

Pope John Paul II addressed the first National Italian Ultreya in Rome in 1980: “In her [the church] 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.”