Cursillo / 'A Little Course' to spark your faith life

By Michele Baker


North Texas Catholic

As Catholics around the world begin the penitential season of Lent, the Year of Faith has come into full effect. Pope Benedict XVI has described the Year of Faith as a “summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the One Savior of the world” (Porta Fidei, 6) but what does that mean? How can the Faithful respond to this call?

One way is to take a weekend to go back to school.

The Cursillo de Christiandad (Spanish for “short course in Christian living”) provides an opportunity to do just that. And even as Father Francis Fernandez, OFM Cap., director of the diocesan Cursillo Center prepared a daylong retreat on the subject of “The Year of Faith and Lent,” he had more than enough time and energy to devote to a discussion about why now is truly an acceptable time to make a Cursillo.

A Little Course

“This is a Catholic lay movement,” he explained. “It is an instrument to revive the faith of the people by means of prayer, the sacraments, and Scripture.”

If the components of this lay movement sound familiar, it is because they are so similar to the words of the Holy Father and the entire United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in their exhortation to the faithful to turn to Jesus Christ and deepen their faith as they encounter Him in his sacramental Church.

“The whole emphasis is on turning your life toward Christ as the center of your life,” said Pat Urbanski of St. Bartholomew Parish in Fort Worth. Urbanski made a Cursillo in Pennsylvania in 1974. “I always had a strong faith. But the practicality of living my life in the world while remaining centered in Christ is what the Cursillo did for me.”

The practical aspect is no accident. Cursillista Bill McNeill (a “cursillista” is one who has made a Cursillo) explained, “There are three dynamics to the Cursillo: formation, spiritual direction, and witness. There’s nothing [presented on a Cursillo weekend] that a Catholic has never heard before, but we try to do things in an efficient manner so that all these dynamics come together.”

McNeill, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Arlington, made a Cursillo in 1979 and has remained active in the movement ever since. He insists there’s no great mystery involved in the weekend — except, of course, the mystery of God Himself encountering his people.

“Fifteen talks are done,” he said “And there’s discussion time after each. About five talks are done by priests, deacons, or religious. All the rest by lay people.”

The first meditation, entitled “Who Am I Today?” serves as the jumping off point for the weekend. “You accept that you have a bright side and you have a dark side. This is the beginning,” said Fr. Fernandez.

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A Little History

The Cursillo Movement itself had its beginnings during a time of both darkness and light. It started in Spain in the late 1940s on the heels of both the Spanish Civil War and World War II: a time of unrest and uncertainty both politically and spiritually.

“At that time, everyone in Spain was a baptized Catholic, but” they were Catholics in name only, said Fr. Fernandez, who is from Spain. “Yet people used to make pilgrimages to the shrine of St. James in Compostela to pray for special intentions or make reparation for past sins.”

As more and more pilgrims gathered, there became a need to organize the pilgrimage groups. Out of this practical need, the opportunity for further spiritual guidance emerged. Layman Eduardo Bonnin Aguilo rose to the occasion by creating a brief course of study to prepare young men to make the pilgrimage to the shrine. With the support of the local bishop, Aguilo used a series of talks, group discussions, reflections, and prayer anchored in the sacramental life of the Church that would eventually become the Cursillo as it is known today. 

A Little Spark

The three-day “little course” proved an overwhelming success. Rooted in solid Catholic teaching, the sacraments, and the call to witness to Christ by living holy lives, the Cursillo grew into a movement that began to spread: first to Latin America, then to the Spanish and English-speaking populations in the United States -- and Canada. (The first Cursillo in the United States was presented in Spanish to a group in Waco in 1957.)

By the advent of the Second Vatican Council, the increased reach of the lay-led Cursillo Movement couldn’t have been more providentially arranged. It proved to be a timely expression of the New Evangelization, the Universal Call to Holiness, and the role of the laity in the life of the Church.

“It was the first real renewal movement in the Church in many, many years,” explained Urbanski. “And a lot of renewal movements have since flowed out of the Cursillo idea.”

Today the Cursillo Movement has been implemented in over 60 countries worldwide and has influenced countless ministries, apostolates, and movements including the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Renew, Kairos, and ACTS. Adaptations of the Cursillo format have been made to accommodate couples, teens, prison populations, and speakers of hundreds of different languages. In the Diocese of Fort Worth alone Cursillos are offered in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

“Even our Protestant brothers have a version of the Cursillo,” Fr. Fernandez said. “For the Methodists and Episcopalians it’s called Walk to Emmaus; the Lutherans have the Via de Cristo.” 

A Little More

“There must be some activity,” said Fr. Fernandez. “If there is no activity, your faith is weak.”

To buoy one another’s faith, Cursillistas remain rooted in community and ministry as they go forth to live the faith that’s been awakened in Cursillo. This is their “Fourth Day.”

Fr. Fernandez explains it this way. He had a friend who invited him to take a walk with him each day. Because of his commitment to his friend, Fr. Fernandez recalls walking even on days when he didn’t feel like it because he knew his friend was counting on him.

“It is like that with your faith walk as well,” he said. “You can rely on a friend. People need to know that they have a place in the faith community and that they are missed when they are not there.” 

For more information on the Cursillo Movement in the Diocese of Fort Worth or for dates of upcoming Cursillos, contact Fr. Francis Fernandez, OFM Cap. at (817) 624-9411 or by e-mail at , or visit the Fort Worth Cursillo Community’s website at

As Catholics around the world begin the penitential season of Lent, the Year of Faith has come into full effect. Pope Benedict XVI has described the Year of Faith as a “summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the One Savior of the world” (Porta Fidei, 6) but what does that mean? How can the Faithful respond to this call?