Responding to calls from the Diocese of Little Rock’s Synod on Synodality report, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor has reactivated the Cursillo movement in Arkansas.
The bishop’s first decision in mid-October was to appoint Deacon Rob Brothers as spiritual director for English Cursillo and Deacon Jose Fabio Cruz as spiritual director for Spanish Cursillo. Brothers and Cruz were ordained deacons June 25 at their home parish, St. Vincent de Paul Church in Rogers.
Bishop Taylor said some of the main findings in the diocese’s synod report showed a request for more retreats, especially in English, and opportunities for leadership at the diocesan and parish levels.
“Cursillo is for people who want to take on a more active spiritual life and leadership role in the Church,” the bishop said. “Most of the people who hold leadership positions within the diocese are cursillistas (ker-see-is-tuhs),” people who have participated in a Cursillo retreat.
According to the National Cursillo Center in Jarrell, Texas, the Cursillo (pronounced ker-see-yo) movement, officially known as Cursillos de Cristiandad, which translates from Spanish as “short courses of Christianity,” is a Catholic-based training program started by Eduardo Bonnín Jan. 7-10, 1949, at the Monastery of San Honorato in Majorca, Spain.
Over a three-day retreat, lay participants attend 15 talks, which are given by priests and laypeople, on how to become effective Christian leaders. The method stresses personal spiritual development, as accelerated by weekly group “reunions” after the weekend retreat.
Brothers said the first Cursillo in the United States was held in Waco, Texas, in 1957. By 1981, almost all dioceses in the United States had introduced the movement.
“It is designed to help adults learn more about their faith and to develop a closer personal relationship with Jesus Christ, making it possible for Catholics everywhere to live a Christian life in a natural way,” Brothers said.
There are three distinct parts of movement, Brothers said. The first is the weekend retreat, which lasts from Thursday evening through Sunday afternoon.
This is followed by ongoing — ideally weekly — small group gatherings of three-five cursillistas. The 30-60 minute meetings are formatted for sharing and accountability. The weekend retreats are offered separately for men and women, as are the small groups. The third part, called the Ultreya (ul-tray-ah), unites the small groups into a larger gathering for spiritual renewal and continuing education.
“Ultreyas can vary in form and frequency, as monthly, quarterly or annual formats,” Brothers said. “The Ultreyas bring both men and women together.”
Bishop Taylor and Brothers said the diocese has conducted Cursillo retreats on a near-annual basis since the 1960s. As with many programs, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the retreats to go on a full pause.
“COVID stopped it, but English Cursillo was slipping before the pandemic,” Bishop Taylor said. “We thought it was a good time to bring it back.”
Brothers said it has been several years since weekend retreats or Ultreyas have been conducted in the diocese, although many small groups have continued to be active.
“Cursillo has been, perhaps, the longest, continuously effective process for men and women that are already active Catholics to both learn about their faith, and to experience a growing closeness to Jesus Christ. Many of the diocese’s priests, deacons and staff members are Cursillistas,” Brothers said. “Many parish staff members and active ministry leaders are also Cursillistas.”
When asked what their Cursillo retreat experience meant to them, a common response is that it was “the first time that their faith had actually come alive for them as adults, enabling them to see the full beauty of the Catholic Church and its teachings, as well as the first time they had a close personal encounter with Jesus and the Holy Spirit,” Brothers said. “Many Cursillistas comment that they have been meeting in small groups for 20 or more years and have developed close faith friendships that have aided them in their ongoing faith development.”
Bishop Taylor said Cursillo is open to married couples in good standing with the Church who have nothing to impede their taking a leadership position within the Church.
Brothers and Cruz are working on building their leadership teams with hopes of offering men’s and women’s retreats in 2023.
“Right now, I am organizing and laying out plans for the work we need to do over the next year,” Cruz said. “We have organized groups of cursillistas into four regions to increase the attendance of all or almost all cursillistas.”
For Spanish Cursillo, Region 1 includes Springdale, Berryville, Fort Smith and Siloam Springs. Little Rock and central Arkansas make up Region 2. Region 3, based in Jonesboro, covers northeast Arkansas; and Region 4 includes DeQueen and Texarkana in southwest Arkansas.
“These groups have weekly meetings; their goal is to share and increase the faith and leadership in the different parishes where they live,” Cruz said.
A regional Ultreya was held in Region 1 Nov. 19 at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Rogers. Additional regional Ultreyas as well as men’s and women’s retreats at St. John Center in Little Rock are being planned for next year.”
“The Spanish Cursillo is a bit ahead of the English Cursillo in rebuilding their infrastructure post-COVID,” Brothers said. “The English Cursillo is just now beginning to reform its leadership team with an eye toward offering a men’s and women’s retreat in 2023 as well.”
Bishop Taylor said putting on a Cursillo retreat is intensive and involves about 50 people to help lead and feed the participants. He is asking any Cursillistas around the state who have an interest in helping to reactivate the English Cursillo as a team member or team supporter, to contact Brothers at (479) 306-8188 or .
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