By Harvey I. Barkin
SAN ANTONIO, Texas – The U.S. National Cursillo Movement celebrated its 60th anniversary at its 27th annual Encounter July 27-30 at Trinity University.
More than 700 Cursillistas came from all over the U.S. and gathered with four bishops, about 50 priests and deacons, and four guests from overseas. Cursillistas who attended spoke English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Filipino, Portuguese, Korean and Chinese. Most of the Cursillistas came from Texas.
The three-day, overnight conference was patterned after a Cursillo weekend where attendees listened to talks, participated in fellowship, prayer, regional group meetings and even a fiesta showcasing cultural talents. This is the second time the National Encounter was held in San Antonio. The previous Encounter in 2011 was held at Saint Mary University.
Some of the surviving participants of the first May 24-27, 1957, Cursillo Weekend at Saint Francis church near Waco (less than 200 miles from this city), were also allowed their time in the spotlight: Louis Salinas, Father Stephen Jasso and Gregorio Concha.
Also on hand were: Deacon Jesse Fragga and Antonio Deleon who were Cursillistas from the first weekend in San Antonio in 1959.
Also, there was Deacon Mike Perez, a Cursillista from the San Antonio weekend in 1962.
The original bell from the first Cursillo weekend was also on display.
The Cursillo (literally, little courses, in Spanish) is a movement for Christian renewal that began after the Spanish Civil War and the start of World War II. The effects of both wars and the indifference of the faithful in Spain gave birth to the Cursillo movement. Father Juan Capo and Eduardo Bonin are the acknowledged founders of the Cursillo movement. The Cursillo methodology’s focus on the layman’s role to spread the faith pre-dates even Vatican II. The Cursillo is supported by the Roman Catholic Church.
The methodology was adapted by the Episcopalian-Anglican Cursillo, the Presbyterian Cursillo Pilgrimage and the Lutheran Via de Cristo.
Cursillo methodology can also be recognized in several high school and college retreats, the Kairos prison ministry, Emmaus, Tres Dias, Gennesaret (for those afflicted with serious illness) and others with derivative names.
By Salinas’ account, in April, 1957, Spanish pilots Bernardo Vadell and Agustin Palomino visited Father Gabriel Fernandez. All three had experienced Cursillo weekends in Mallorca, Spain, with Bonin and a plan was made to have one in Waco. It was the first Cursillo weekend in Texas and in the U.S.
Vadell became the first rector; Palomino, the first Dean (“professor”); and Father Fernandez, the first Spiritual Director.
The first Cursillo weekend had 16 all-men candidates, averaging around 21 years old. The second Cursillo weekend had 22 candidates and was held in July 28-31, 1957. Auxiliaries were first used in the second weekend.
A third weekend was planned on August 23 that year. The team was amazed at their continued success because some of them did not know how to read and write in Spanish – at that point, all the Cursillos were conducted in Spanish. But their success also came with the core team being broken up.
Stephen Jasso had decided to become a priest and was leaving for the seminary. Vadell and Palomino had set their sights on Mission, also in Texas, for the next Cursillo Weekend. And so, at 18, Salinas became the first American Rector.
From Waco, Cursillo weekends were held in San Antonio, Houston, San Angelo (where the first English-speaking Cursillo was conducted in 1961), Wichita Falls, New York, Puerto Rico, and New Mexico.
American Cursillistas brought the movement to the Philippines in 1963. In 1965, Filipino Cursillistas with the South Vietnamese forces spread the movement in Vietnam. Then in 1967, Filipino Cursillistas went to Korea and in 1968, Taiwan.
By the early 1970s, the popularity of the movement began to wane in the Philippines. According to some accounts, the Cursillo’s definition of an agent of change was often interpreted as the person with affluence, rather than influence. Soon, politicians, actors and high-profile personalities in the Cursillo had the unintended consequence of making the Cursillo appear as an exclusive club in the country and elsewhere.
Since that time, the movement has made the effort to be perceived as inclusive.
In the early 1980s, Bonin’s writings began to be translated by the Eduardo Bonin Aguilo Foundation. In the ensuing years, new Cursillo-related books in Bonin’s own words were published before his death in 2008.
In recent years, the U.S. National Secretariat campaigned for a return to the authentic charism as Bonin originally envisioned it.