By MEG WATERS     1/24/2015

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to find a new road to get closer to God and your faith, a Cursillo weekend might be just the ticket. You’ve likely heard of it through friends and fellow parishioners, but may not have gotten a clear picture of what it’s all about.

Deacon Doug Cook from San Antonio de Padua Parish in Anaheim Hills has been Spiritual Director for Orange County Cursillo for 10 years, and he offers a succinct and telling explanation:. “Any Catholic seeking to live a full, Catholic, Christian life is a good candidate for Cursillo,” he says. “It is a bit like Marriage Encounter for your relationship with Christ and his Church, a bit like boot camp and for most people it is one of those experiences that changes everything.”

Nick Williams, Cursillo’s Lay Director, describes his three-day retreat in more colorful terms, “My Cursillo experience has changed my faith journey from black and white to a brilliant 3-D Technicolor.”

Cursillo started in 1944 in Majorca Spain, as a “small course” (the literal English translation of the word). It involves a three-day retreat meant to empower Catholics by strengthening their faith and giving them the tools and encouragement to live their faith in their daily lives. In 1957, the Cursillo movement came to the United States, and by 1961 Cursillo served both Spanish and English communities with weekends held across the country.

More than 10,000 people have gone through the Cursillo experience since it was established in Orange County in 1977. Patricia Doyle, a realtor, made her weekend retreat in 2011. “I was hesitant about going on a retreat but the three days changed my faith life. I now have a close relationship with God, peace in my life and I am more trusting of God’s infinite wisdom.”

Participants come from all walks of life and live together in Christian community for three days. Nancy Coletto has remained an active volunteer. “Making my Cursillo in January of 2007 brought my faith from my head to my heart,” she says. “I had taught religious education for many years and was very active at my parish, but it wasn’t a living, vibrant faith until my encounter with the Holy Spirit through Cursillo.”


“Instead of being just a Church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a Church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent.”

—Pope Francis

Maria Schinderle, former General Counsel for the Diocese of Orange, and her husband David, a bank executive, attended consecutive weekends. “David and I made our Cursillos 27 years ago,” says Maria. “It took me several months to understand how I was being called, but when I did, it took hold and never let go. My understanding of saying yes to the Lord and maintaining a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ has grown over the years and is steadfast because of the love I see in my Cursillo brothers and sisters. I know I could not have done what I was called to do these last 16 years for the Church without Cursillo.”

This is not to say that after a weekend a new “Cursista” ends up on a street corner with a sign proclaiming “Jesus Saves.” “Quite the contrary,” says Deacon Doug. “The purpose of Cursillo is to develop the spiritual muscles to continue with your life as it is, but with a new Christ-centered focus and purpose.”

Elizabeth Vargas, who is heading the English women’s retreat from Jan. 22 to 25, says that “Cursillo gave me the tools to align my spiritual journey with God’s call. My spiritual life is what it is because of the seeds planted that took deep root through my Cursillo experience.”

Most dioceses across the country have active Cursillo programs. The Diocese of Orange holds 16 weekends each year: eight conducted in English, six in Spanish and two in Vietnamese. Men and women go on separate weekends, which are held at the Divine Word Retreat Center in La Sierra, near Riverside.

Making a Cursillo weekend is a once-in-a-lifetime answer to the call of the Holy Spirit. However, a larger group of “Cursistas”—those who have already made their weekend—plan and staff retreats. It takes more than 50 people to coordinate a weekend. Attendees are asked to leave their problems, worries and especially their cell phones at home to focus on the message of the weekend. Talks on various aspects of Catholic values, Mass, confession and private reflection fill the agenda. The suggested cost to attend is under $200, or whatever the candidate can afford.

“The great thing about Cursillo is that once you’ve lived it, you can come back as a volunteer any time and find it familiar, yet still learn something new,” says Deacon Doug. “In fact, we encourage people to work a weekend even if they have been away for a while, just to refresh and enjoy the Christian spiritual community.”

For more information on Cursillo visit the website at occursillo.org or contact your parish Cursillo representative or Deacon Doug Cook.