What is Cursillo?

The Cursillo (kur-SEE-yo) Movement in the Diocese of Erie has been active since 1963.  Our first Cursillo was held in the basement of St. Michael Church in Erie on Thanksgiving Weekend.

 To understand what the Cursillo Movement is all about, a person must first realize that the Cursillo Movement is a method of spirituality. This method for living one’s faith has a twofold goal. The first goal is the internal renewal of the person. The second goal is the Christianizing of the person’s environment. The first goal is seen as the absolutely necessary step to achieve the second goal. But the Cursillo Movement’s philosophy is that the first goal is meaningless unless there is also a sincere commitment to the second goal.

For the Cursillista (kur-SEE-ista), faith impels the person to “incarnate” the world, to do as the son of God did: to bring into the very guts of daily life the Word of God, the Christian Message, the dynamic power and thrust of the trinity in human history.  The person who has made a Cursillo knows that Jesus did not come to save us “from this world,” but to help us give God back to His world.

The Cursillo Method for living a Christian life is wrapped up in two phrases used frequently during the three-day Cursillo experience (that is, the Cursillo Weekend that people talk about “making”). These two phrases are the “Cursillo Tripod” and the “Fourth Day.”

The Cursillo “Tripod”

The Cursillo Tripod refers to the need of piety, study, and action as the basic ingredients of a Christian’s life.         Piety has a twofold meaning in Cursillo.  On one hand, it refers to the person’s basic commitment of his or her life to living out the implication of the Christian faith.  From another point of view, it refers to the person’s awareness of the need of an active life of worship, be it private or sacramental liturgy, to survive as a Catholic. Toward the end of the three-day Cursillo Weekend, the person formulates privately some general resolutions about how to improve his or her practices of piety.

 The Study leg of the Cursillo Tripod refers to the need of some real intellectual work on the part of the person in order to keep his or her Christian Life alert and growing. Recommended at Cursillos in this regard are: Bible studies, reading of current and challenging religious books / newspapers / magazines, and the variety of adult religious education programs available. Some specific commitment to study is also suggested to the new Cursillista.

 The third leg of the tripod is Action. This aspect of the Cursillo Method, like piety, has a twofold meaning. On one level, it refers to the one-to-one approach to expressing Christian love. It is summarized in the Talk on “Action” during the Cursillo weekend as “making a friend, being a friend, and introducing that friend to Christ.” The other level of the word Action emphasizes the need for the “Christian Community in Action.” By this phrase the Cursillo Method understands the formation of a variety of Christian Groups which deliberately work and pray together to accomplish the changing of our present society into a Christian-oriented social order.


 The 4th Day points to the rest of the person’s life from the time the Cursillo Weekend closes until the time the person’s days on earth end. The Cursillo believes that in order to maintain one’s commitment to live up to what our Catholic Faith asks of us, we need the help of others. “No Man is an Island.”  That phrase says it for the people who have made a Cursillo.         You can’t go it alone!  You need the active support, inspiration, encouragement, and understanding of your brothers and sisters in Christ.

 In order to supply a person with that continuing support for his or her spiritual life and the development of that life, the Cursillo recommends a number of “people contacts” in the person’s life-pattern. These personal meetings occur on three levels: “Spiritual Direction,” “Group Reunion,” and “Ultreya.”

“Spiritual Direction” refers to the need a person has to be in touch with a professional. That pro is usually a Priest but need not be one, and their job is to “coach” people as they live out their renewed commitment to their faith.  Any number of things can be discussed with one’s spiritual director: from sins all the way to how to relate better with your boss.

“Group Reunions” are voluntary gatherings of people (ideally, no more than 6-8) who come together to grow spiritually into better Christians. It is suggested that “G.R.’s” meet weekly or bi-weekly at a time convenient to the group membership in order to share with one another their Christian lives. At a G.R., members talk about their experiences since their last reunion with a focus on how they have felt the presence of God in their lives. They share good, as well as bad, aspects of their week. They report to one another about a matter each person or the group has decided to be accountable for.  And finally, they pray together in a format determined by the group and their situation.

To someone who has not made a Cursillo, such intimate sharing may seem to be something they could not or would not do, or something they do not need in their lives. All a person can say is that most people coming into a Cursillo felt the same way.

“Ultreyas” comes from the Spanish word meaning, “go further” or “go higher.” In the Diocese of Erie, Ultreyas are scheduled in various areas once a month. The concept behind such gathering again is the need for personal support if a person is to keep living up to his Christian Ideals.  At these Ultreyas, the person brushes against a large number of people whose presence tells him or her that these people are as serious about the Christian Life as I am, as my Spiritual Director is, as my Group Reunion is!  Ultreyas usually include the Eucharistic Liturgy.


Many people wonder what goes on at a Cursillo Weekend.  Since information seems scarce, these people often speak of the “secrecy” that exists (“no one tells me anything, and if they do, it is very little”).  To defend the Cursillo people who may give this feeling to others, let it be said that a Cursillo Weekend is an Experience.  And, like all experiences, the telling of the details of the experience just does not relate what the experience was and means. Thus, people do not talk about the details. For your information, I will now write about the details.

Cursillo weekends are held primarily in the Erie Area, but are also hosted in other areas of the Diocese.

On Thursday evening at 7:30pm, about 40-45 new candidates arrive to be greeted by a team of 2 Priests (known as the “Spiritual Directors) and 12-14 lay people. This team has met three times previous to the weekend to prepare themselves for working this particular Cursillo.

After an opening talk by the Rector (the lay person in charge of the weekend) to welcome the new people and to give a general idea of what to expect, there is a period of silence for the first evening until after the Eucharistic Liturgy on Friday Morning.  The Spiritual Director gives two talks and there is time for prayer and reflection. The atmosphere is deliberately that of a retreat.

On Friday, after a good breakfast (the food is tops during every Cursillo and is cooked and served by Cursillo volunteers), there is much singing and joke-telling. This procedure is followed at every meal and makes for a joyful atmosphere.

The participants are then seated at round discussion tables. They stay at these same tables throughout the Cursillo.         As much as possible, the people at each table are encouraged to meet regularly in Group Reunions (“G.R.’s”) after the Cursillo to continue to share their Christian lives together.

From Friday morning until Sunday afternoon, the candidates listen to talks given by various speakers. There are nine lay speakers who talk during a Cursillo Weekend while the Spiritual Directors give five major talks as well as morning meditations and homilies.

After each talk, each table (under the direction of a table leader appointed from among the new candidates) discusses the theme of the talk and makes a table summary (brief paragraph). The tables’ members then cooperate in a drawing a poster that is meant to illustrate the theme of the talk.

On Friday and Saturday evenings, all of these summaries are read and the posters shown and explained to the whole group. The educational effectiveness of hearing a talk, discussing it, making a poster of it, and then listening to five summaries and five poster explanations of it is phenomenal. Surprisingly, despite the long hours of work involved, the people making the Cursillo do not seem to find this long effort of study that unpleasant or boring.

Besides the talks and the meals together, with singing and joking, the Cursillo Weekend devotes a great deal of time to prayer. The Eucharistic Liturgy is celebrated daily, the Rosary is recited twice, the Stations of the Cross once, and morning and night prayers are held each day.  Visits to Christ in the tabernacle are also made.  There are readings from the Bible each morning and evening. Also, a number of opportunities exist for private Confessions or Counseling with the Priests, who often go into the tiny hours of the morning meeting with participants who have finally found someone who understands and will listen.  Benediction is also held.

The Prayer associated with the Cursillo Weekend is not only going on within the Cursillo.  All over the Diocese during every Cursillo, people gather together to hold Holy Hours in support of the candidates and team.  Others pray and make many different kinds of sacrifices on an individual basis to support the new Cursillistas.  Often, letters and other means of communicating this support to the candidates are sent during the Weekend.

The closing of every Cursillo is marked by a Holy Hour attended by new and older Cursillistas, and a light luncheon is served for all who come.  During the closing there is much sharing and joy exchanged between all who are there.   The meaning of Cursillo to people in their lives is often shared to the inspiration of all who hear these words.  The Priests of the Cursillo give short talks to everyone and there is music and happiness.

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