Cursillo in L.A.: Vibrant, life-changing and multicultural
Call it a retreat, a movement or an experience; the weekend Cursillo program is hard to classify to the uninitiated. Established in the Los Angeles Archdiocese in 1962, this religious three-day experience has touched thousands --- and the memories of that first weekend still resonate within participants who say the experience has forever changed their lives and deepened their faith.
In the past, Cursillo was nomadic, setting up the weekends in parish halls, retreat houses, seminary rooms and even a Boy Scout camp. In 2010, the wanderings ended as doors were opened to participants for the first Cursillo at the official Cursillo House in Pomona. Many participants called that day a “dream come true.”
“I would never have believed it could happen,” says Deacon Bill Landa of St. Philip the Apostle Church, Pasadena, who was part of the first-ever Cursillo in the L.A. Archdiocese and has been active in the movement ever since. “Of course, I never thought I would be involved [with Cursillo] so much but it just happened that way. There is something about the community that keeps you coming back.”
Cursillo began in Spain in 1949 (in Spanish, Cursillo means “a little course in Christianity”) when Bishop Juan Hervas invited leaders of Catholic Action to help spread the word of spiritual renewal through small communities. From there, the movement arrived in America, first to Texas in the 1950s and then to Northern California, New Mexico, Michigan and Indiana.
Cursillo found its way to Los Angeles via the Claretian Fathers at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church (“La Placita”) downtown, who were very active in the experience with fellow priests in Arizona.
“Our pastor told us about this retreat experience and asked five of us to volunteer and check it out,” says Landa who attended that church at the time. “We didn’t know what it was going to be; it was like a big adventure. But let me tell you, there is no comparison between a Cursillo and a retreat. A retreat you can go on every year, every month if you want. You only live your Cursillo weekend once in your life.”
Since its introduction, Cursillo has spurred many other similar-type weekend experiences --- Teens Encounter Christ (TEC), Kairos, Awakening, Search --- but Cursillo is “the granddaddy of them all,” says Father Modesto Perez, pastor at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Altadena and spiritual director of Cursillo.
“The Cursillo longevity can be attributed to the basic fundamentals of what it means to be a Christian and to live as a Christian,” says Father Perez. “It’s a personal encounter with the Lord in the context of faith and church. Every weekend is new and fresh. I made my first Cursillo in 1993 and I have been serving on countless weekends since then and there are always new insights and new things to learn. Every weekend the people are different and they make the difference.”
In Los Angeles, Cursillo is offered in Chinese, English, Filipino, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Vietnamese. Spanish and English weekends are offered on a more regular schedule (four a year in English, eight in Spanish).
Additionally, women and men have their own Cursillo weekends given the overnight nature of the experience. (In its earlier days, the Cursillo experience was only offered to men, but soon afterward, women’s Cursillos were soon introduced.)
On paper, Cursillo sounds like a typical retreat --- scheduled talks, prayer time, daily Mass and quiet moments. But participants say that how the weekends are structured and the deep heart-felt messages put them in a place of direct personal connection with God.
I feel more alive now than when I lived my Cursillo a few years ago. The messages, the things I learned, I still hold in my heart. I know that even when I’m having a bad day, God is here with me, helping me and I must truly surrender myself to that.
---Paola Jurado, Cursillo participant and volunteer
“I was invited by a friend to my Cursillo weekend,” says Paola Jurado of Anaheim. “He said I would be ready for it and I sure was! I came to the weekend open for anything.”
Being invited to experience a weekend is also part of the Cursillo process --- the idea of sponsorship, of friends asking friends. People who have gone through the three-day program are encouraged to become sponsors and invite others to attend an upcoming weekend, thus making the program essentially “by invitation only.”
“I was very willing and open to whatever the weekend would offer,” says Jurado. “I feel more alive now than when I lived my Cursillo a few years ago. The messages, the things I learned, I still hold in my heart. I know that even when I’m having a bad day, God is here with me, helping me and I must truly surrender myself to that. Every day is a miracle.”
Jurado’s enthusiasm for the program is infectious. After her first weekend, she has since volunteered for four other Cursillos at Pomona’s Cursillo House.
“I wonder if I’ll ever get tired of it; I don’t think so,” she says. “I want to do this, be a part of this community and want others to experience it.”
Volunteers spend up to three months preparing for the weekend Cursillo, giving up their evenings and weekends in careful planning, discussion and prayer.
After the weekend is over, eager Cursillo participants have many opportunities to keep that Cursillo feeling alive --- leadership groups, reunions and chances to volunteer for the next weekend. Now, with a new permanent facility, volunteers can also lend a hand at the Cursillo House which was, in a previous life, a Protestant church and school.
“The building was bought in 2007 and it took years of renovation and permits until we could finally open our doors to the public in 2010,” says Father Perez. Meeting rooms, two chapels, dorm facilities and bathrooms make up the host of Cursillo House which is located on a secluded five acres. In addition to serving the Cursillo community, the house hosts other groups that need space for their retreats, workshops and meetings.
“Our goal is to have the center as self-sufficient; we’d love to have it occupied on weekdays as most of our weekends are full now,” says Father Perez.
The road to the Cursillo House mirrors the path many new participants will take as they embark on their first weekend experience. They will drive through a quiet residential area, then turn into the facility and enter a very green lush landscape that feels like a separate world. The bucolic space allows for the power of the Cursillo weekend to shine through deeply and brightly.
“At the heart of Cursillo is friendship --- becoming a friend with the Lord and with others,” says Father Perez. “You will leave the weekend as an agent of change; to go out and change the world.”
For more information about Cursillo in Los Angeles, visit www.cursillo-losangeles.org.