From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Cursillo revitalizes faith as participants encounter Christ

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the May 3, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

In the Sunday readings during this Easter season, Catholics once again hear about the many encounters of the disciples with the risen Jesus and how that encounter totally changed their lives. The spiritual renewal known as Cursillo aims for that same purpose: to give its participants an encounter with Christ that carries over into daily life.

The experience’s full name is “Cursillo de Christianad,” which is Spanish for “Short Course in Christ.” The movement began in Spain in 1949, to help people center their lives on Christ, not only spiritually but in all their human activity. Cursillo, which is a lay-led movement, came to the United States in 1957 and to Washington state in the early 1960s. Nearly 40 years later, Cursillo is alive and well in the Spokane Diocese.

First, look in the north-central part of the diocese. Cursillo can be found in the parish communities in the Wellpinit area. In the mid-1980s, Catholics there traveled to western Montana to participate in Cursillo. Jesuit Father Jake Morton, who is one of Cursillo’s spiritual directors and pastor of four parishes in the area, also went to Montana to take part in a 1986 Cursillo. The next year, 1987, on Mother’s Day weekend, a Cursillo was held in his parishes in Washington state.

From that experience, teams were formed who led Cursillos for others. Nancy Armstrong-Montes of Nespelem, who is a Cursillo team leader, said that since 1986 about 1,100 people in her area have experienced Cursillo. This is remarkable, since the facilities there can only accommodate from 25-30 people at a time. “We took a year off, thinking we had reached everyone, but we discovered that people wanted us to continue. Now we’re starting to see second generations,” she said.

Next, look to Pasco, Othello, and Walla Walla. Msgr. Pedro Ramírez, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Pasco and another Cursillo spiritual director, made his own Cursillo in the early 1970s. “You don’t finish with Cursillo,” he said. “There are always people to reach.”

Cursillo participants join together for a three-day weekend of spiritual education and prayer, including the Eucharist. Two separate Cursillo weekends are held, usually during a one-year span in an area, one for men and one for women.The weekends are intensive, with participants coming together starting on a Thursday night, continuing through Sunday. For those three days, they eat, sleep, pray, study, and learn as a group. A number of talks are given during the three days, on such topics as grace, laity, evangelization and Faith. Music plays a big part in the weekend, and a public celebration is held at the end.

Msgr. Ramírez called Cursillo a conversion experience for participants. “Not many people have had such an experience. It touches their lives and you can see the difference,” he said. Afterward, participants become more actively involved in the parish – attending Mass, offering their service by becoming Eucharistic Ministers and lectors, and so forth, he said.

“For some (participants),” said Father Morton, “it’s the first real intimate experience of God, and that can be very powerful.” That power is noticed by others. “What appeals to people is when they see their friends coming back happy and enthusiastic,” he said.

But Cursillo does not end when the weekend is over. That’s when the “Fourth Day” of Cursillo, which refers to the rest of a person’s life, begins. Participants meet monthly in ultreyas to pray, study, and encourage one another. The encounter with Christ that Cursillo can give fosters a sense that “we’re all in this together,” said Father Morton.

Father Morton said “the whole idea of Cursillo was way ahead of its time in developing lay leaders and Christianizing the environment. It’s an incredible wellspring for local communities, to help people experience and use their gifts.” Those gifts become useful for other Cursillos, since it takes about as many people to present a Cursillo as there are participants. “There’s such a variety of activities that everyone can be involved,” he said.

Father Morton said the Native American community in his parishes finds Cursillo “a natural fit,” since they are “used to extended families and communities of people.” The teams that have formed continue to present Cursillos, traveling to Pendleton, Ore., and to the Yakama and Swinomish Indian reservations. Cursillo is spreading among the Spanish-speaking community, too. The movement is starting up again in Walla Walla, with organizers planning a Cursillo there in November. There are also individuals who have experienced a Cursillo, known as cursillistas, in Othello, helping others to come to Christ through Cursillo experience.

Individuals who have experienced Cursillo describe it as life-changing.

Armstrong-Montes said Cursillo fosters an openness and friendliness with each other. “We’re much more willing to work together and trust each other. There’s a wonderful sense of trust” in having shared Cursillo, she said.

Julie Webinger and her husband, of Spokane, participated in a Cursillo in Billings, Mont., in 1978, and she said she would like to see it active again in Spokane. “It made a strong impact on our faith,” she said. “And it’s still very integral in our lives.”

Tim and Chris Birrenkott of Tekoa said the same. Their Cursillo took place in Conrad, Mont., and they agreed it was an encounter with Christ. “It’s good for people,” Tim Birrenkott said. “If one or two people (in a parish) go, it will spark your church.”

Bishop Skylstad was among the first people in Eastern Washington to experience Cursillo in the mid-1960s. His Cursillo took place at Bishop White Seminary, which then had a gym that could accommodate participants. He said Cursillo was successful as an evangelization tool because it “provided an opportunity for us to renew our faith and have a conversion experience.” He remembered the faith-sharing that was a part of Cursillo — “that was kind of new then.”

The bishop praised and encouraged Cursillo activities in the diocese because, he said, “it really touches people’s lives.”

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