Dormant Cursillo movement ready to wake up diocese

Jennifer Didion of Fort Smith (left), Tom Harding of Bentonville and national team member Bernadette Charlton of Belleville Ill., have a small group discussion during a Cursillo leadership workshop April 22 in Little Rock.
Jennifer Didion of Fort Smith (left), Tom Harding of Bentonville and national team member Bernadette Charlton of Belleville Ill., have a small group discussion during a Cursillo leadership workshop April 22 in Little Rock.

The relaunch of the Cursillo movement in the Diocese of Little Rock is closer.

On April 20-23, a national team trained 26 Arkansas leaders in English at St. John Center in Little Rock. Weekend retreats for men and women will be scheduled for later this year at St. John Center, said Deacon Rob Brothers, spiritual director for the movement in English.

In October, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor appointed Brothers to oversee the English language movement in the diocese, while Deacon Jose Fabio Cruz will lead the Spanish-language movement. Relaunching the movement was in response to requests for more retreat opportunities, as expressed during the diocesan synod process.

Cursillos de Cristiandad, an international movement, is a short course of lectures in Christian living. People enter the movement after attending a three-day retreat led by clergy and laity.

The Spanish movement, which had some leadership already in place before the relaunch, has its first weekends on the calendar. They will be held June 15-18 for men and June 29-July 2 for women, both at St. John Center.

Brothers, a retired banker and deacon at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Rogers, said the national workshop would help ensure Arkansas cursillistas — those who have attended a Cursillo weekend — will use updated materials and offer the “most authentic” experience.

After the workshop, Brothers said a secretariat would be chosen to lead the weekend retreats and oversee the movement. Secretariat membership will include seven or eight people, including Brothers and Nancy Christian, lay director from Our Lady of Fatima Church in Benton. Christian, who served as lay director from 2001 to 2004 and 2007 to 2012, agreed to serve in the position again for a year to get the movement restarted.

Besides the three-day retreats, the Cursillo movement includes the recruiting phase called Pre-Cursillo and several post-weekend groups, including group reunions; ultreyas, or reunions of several groups; and School of Leaders.

“There is a lot of pent-up demand in the state for us to hold weekends again,” said Brothers, noting the last ones in English were in 2016. “Bishop Taylor is a cursillista, and he is very supportive of our efforts. He recognizes the potential strength of the movement and what it has done in the past.”

The biggest step to getting the weekends held again was hosting the Cursillos de Cursillo, a training workshop led by Cef Aguillon of Austin, Texas, national coordinator for the English Language Cursillo Movement in the United States, and volunteers from Kentucky, Oklahoma, Illinois, Texas and New York.

Aguillon said before the pandemic there were 265 diocese-level groups active in the United States. Since last year many dioceses like Little Rock have wanted to relaunch the retreats and in-person activities.

“Now that COVID is kind of behind us, we are encouraging people to go back to in-person activities. All dioceses are engaged in that now. As of last year, dioceses are having in-person weekends again. (COVID) put somewhat of a dent in the movement, but we really encourage staying in contact with your cursillistas.”

Zoom meetings were held for two years, but Aguillon said the movement doesn’t encourage virtual meetings now.

“Cursillo is via personal contact,” he said. “Making friends and making them friends of Christ … The Cursillo movement has a very simple charism. It’s a charism of friendship with ourselves, with Christ and with others. As we go about living our lives, we try to make a friend, be a friend and bring our friends to Christ.”

Christian, who stayed active with her weekly group even after the movement was dormant in the state, said she is eager to see new leadership develop, especially among younger Catholics.

“I am very excited,” she said. “It’s a very important movement. I don’t know of a ministry in the Catholic Church that touches more people and helps people have a personal relationship with Christ. I think that is something we really need in this day and time. A lot of people don’t realize they need it, but they do.”

Malea Hargett

Malea Hargett has guided the diocesan newspaper as editor since 1994. She finds strength in her faith through attending Walking with Purpose Bible studies at Christ the King Church in Little Rock.

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