If you have ever spent any time scanning the retreat offerings of local retreat centers there is a strong chance that you have seen a retreat title that didn’t make much sense – “Cursillo.” Cursillo retreats are among the most popular retreat offerings across North America. What are they?
What is Cursillo?
The world “cursillo” is Spanish for “short course,” and Cursillo retreats are set up to be just that – a short course in Christianity.
Cursillo was founded in 1944 in Spain and was introduced in the United States in 1957. It is now offered in almost every U.S. diocese.
The retreats are highly structured weekend retreats that run from Thursday evening through Sunday evening. They place a strong emphasis on community and evangelization, and the goal of the retreat is to help Christians to become more fully Christian, enabling them to transform their environment to be more Christian through their daily living.
Cursillo takes place at a local retreat center where retreatants can get away from everyday life and focus for three days and three nights.
Purpose of Cursillo
Cursillo retreats are meant to expand your prayer life and foster continuous spiritual growth that will increase your knowledge about scripture and the Catholic faith. It will also equip you to spread the Word of God in your everyday life in a very natural way.
Who is Cursillo For?
Are you longing to experience your faith more deeply and live it in your daily life?
To enrich your relationship with God, no matter how strong it may be right now?
Are you looking for a community with which to share your faith journey?
Do you want to become more confident in and enthusiastic about your faith and in sharing it in the secular world?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then Cursillo is for you.
That being said, joining a Cursillo is not as simple as just signing up for a retreat.
To get started, a new Cursillo candidate needs to find a sponsor (more on that in a minute).
Both spouses of a married couple are highly advised to make Cursillo together, since the personal and spiritual growth experienced on the weekend are easier to understand and accept when both spouses experience it.
Since the Sacraments are an essential part of the Catholic Cursillo weekend, Christians of other faiths are encouraged to attend a Cursillo that is adapted for their own faith.
It is suggested that those going through especially stressful events in life, such as losing a loved one, wait at least a year before making the retreat so that life can normalize and they can invest fully into a rigorous weekend retreat.
The Need for a Cursillo Sponsor
A unique aspect of the Cursillo movement is the need for a sponsor before making your first retreat. The sponsor must be somebody who has participated in a Cursillo retreat before and remains active with the movement.
Sponsors are meant to explain the weekend to the new retreatant, provide prayer support, help with family arrangements and logistics during the retreats, and provide transportation to and from the retreat site.
After the weekend your sponsor will help you get established in a “group reunion,” which is a small group of Cursillo participants that meet regularly to share their spiritual journey together. These are usually groups of three to five people that meet informally on a weekly basis.
Your sponsor will also introduce you to Ultreya, which is a larger gathering of various group reunions that helps to foster a larger Cursillo community.
The Cursillo Weekend
Each day of a Cursillo retreat begins with morning prayers, ends with night prayers, and includes Mass.
Away from the retreat center other Cursillo participants offer prayer and sacrifice for the success of the weekend throughout the retreat. This is called “palanca,” the Spanish word for “lever,” because it helps to “lift up” the candidates on the retreat.
The first evening of the retreat, Thursday evening, provides a chance for the retreatants to get to know each other. The “retreat phase” starts on Thursday evening and runs through Friday morning. This phase is done in silence and is meant to help retreat participants analyze their own lives and cause them to desire to encounter God.
Friday’s focus is on helping the participants to have a better understanding of themselves. Presentations are made by both the laity and the Spiritual Directors, with table discussions following each presentation.
Saturday is meant to take that understanding of oneself gained on Friday and use that knowledge to grow in relationship with God. Participants examine the current relationship they have with God and hopefully grow in the desire for a deeper and fuller relationship.
The final day of the retreat, Sunday, combines this knowledge of self and relationship with God and helps the participants to discern how to help God in fulfilling His will. The retreatants learn about the different environments they belong to and how they can affect those environments.
At the end of the retreat on Sunday the participants get a chance to meet the larger Cursillo Community and formally enter the Community.
Where to Find Cursillo
Cursillo is offered in almost every U.S. diocese, and around the world. In general, the easiest way to find a Cursillo retreat near you is to inquire through your local diocese. A list of most diocesan Cursillo websites can be found here.
The cost of the retreats varies with room and board costs, but typically runs in the $150 to $250 range.