CNS FILE PHOTO
Cursillo members hold hands during Mass at a Cursillo retreat in the U.S. In the Edmonton Archdiocese, Cursillo holds separate weekend retreats for men and women.
Sixteen years ago, Doug Macleay had no idea what a Cursillo was, but a friend convinced him to give it a try.
Although he was a lifelong Catholic and joined the Knights of Columbus 50 years ago, he had never experienced anything as powerful as Cursillo. The experience opened his eyes to his faith and allowed him to feel more comfortable talking about God in front of others.
While he believes most men to be "doubting Thomases," he said that through Cursillo men openly question their faith without fear of ridicule or being laughed at.
Of his involvement with Cursillo, Macleay said, "Next to getting married to my wife, it's the best thing I've ever done. The men discuss their faith, and it's the sort of format where you can question your religion. By doing so, you strengthen your own faith."
He has experienced many Cursillo weekends since, and they never fail to reinforce his faith.
"I never went to a Catholic school, although I am a cradle Catholic. I am no longer ashamed to talk about God or my faith," said Macleay.
Cursillo is an apostolic movement of the Church that originated in Majorca, Spain. Initiated by Eduardo Bonnin, he and a group of other laymen refined a technique to train pilgrimage Christian leaders in 1944. The format is a three-day "short course."
Since then, the Cursillo has focused on showing laypeople around the world how to become effective Christian leaders. Men's and women's Cursillo weekends are offered separately.
The Cursillo movement arrived in the United States in 1957. It came to Canada in 1963. Since that time, it has grown and spread and is now active to varying degrees throughout most of the country.
More than just that first weekend, it's what occurs after that has a lasting impact. The Cursillo men's group in Sherwood Park continues meeting weekly. In a climate of friendship, the members share their life experiences. This sharing can be contemplative in nature or may deal with an evangelizing experience.
"That's really what keeps me involved, just a handful of guys getting together every Saturday morning, and we basically discuss three things: piety, study and action. We talk about how those things relate to our lives and our faith formation. It is life changing; it really is," said Macleay.
Dave Kornder, the local lay director of Cursillo, says, "The important part of Cursillo is not the weekend itself, but the journey afterwards, the journey with community and friends who are like-minded and focused on keeping the Gospel values and following Christ as their leader."
Everything after the three-day weekend is known as the fourth day. Korn-
der said. There are two aspects to the post-Cursillo, the fourth day. The first aspect is called grouping, in which the members meet for prayer and to focus on their faith journeys of the past week.
The other element is the "Ultreya," a Spanish word meaning "onward." An Ultreya is the monthly meeting among Cursillistas from several communities.
Belle Perry has been involved with the Cursillo movement in Sherwood Park since March 1999, serving as its communications director since 2004.
"I have to admit that I just thought it was a nice weekend when I first started. I didn't really get involved in the fourth day for probably a couple of years," said Perry.
"It took a while before I really caught on and realized where the real strength in Cursillo is, when we gather in groups."
The strength and encouragement she gets from the group sessions are what keeps her active in Cursillo. Every woman had the same starting point, with the retreat weekend, and that common link is what binds them as they continue on their fourth day.
Through the bonding at these twice monthly group sessions, the women develop a special bond. They share in their troubles and triumphs. Even if they live far apart and do not see each other often, over time they feel connected and become a part of each other's lives.
"We meet twice a month, and that's when you share your faith, growth and struggles. Everyone shares, so you get inspired and learn from other people," said Perry.
"For me, faith was always a very private thing, and I didn't think too much about sharing it with other people, but through Cursillo I've learned to do that."
Unlike the men, the women easily attract more members to their group. They had a lengthy list of women who had to be turned away for their last retreat weekend.
"The weekend was originally designed for those people who were not directly involved in the Church. Now we seem to get lots of people who are already active in the Church, and they want the retreat as an extra boost."
Another longtime Cursillo member, Len Rowley, said meeting at the church every Saturday morning is a great way to start his week.
He can reflect on whatever difficulties are going on at home or in his daily life during the weekly Cursillo get-togethers.
Macleay is thankful for Kornder's leadership in the local movement.
Kornder said he thought that he had a "pretty decent relationship with our Lord," and refused all invitations to participate in Cursillo. Finally he gave in, and went on his first Cursillo weekend in 1996. It was life-changing.
"After the weekend, I realized how much closer to Christ I could get. It really ignited a fire within me to follow Jesus much more closely, to make that more a part of my everyday living. I have been fervently involved ever since," said Kornder.
He emphasized that Cursillo is not for people without faith. Cursillo is for practising Catholics who are perhaps waffling in their beliefs, uncertain of their relationship with Jesus or who think the Church does not have much to offer them.
Within the Edmonton Archdiocese, the Ultreya gathers together groups from Edmonton, Sherwood Park, Red Deer, Camrose and other centres. The Ultreya is a call to move forward and to keep the flame of the Cursillo burning brightly.
Despite being involved in the Church as a knight, parish council member and in Development and Peace, Kornder finds his energy through Cursillo. "It's the gas for my gas tank."
"Cursillo has fulfilled in me a need to belong to a Christian community that is small, that cares about me, a place where we can learn from each other in our journeys. There is a joy here that is hard to find anywhere else," said Kornder.
Karl Strickler is another man impacted by his involvement with Cursillo. He used to only read escapist fiction, such as spy novels, but since his Cursillo weekend in 2008 - which he described as a "fantastic experience" - he now delves into deeper sacred material, including the books and newspaper columns of Oblate Father Ronald Rolheiser.
"We went to talks and we went to reflections, so there was a tremendous buildup, and somehow a tremendous joy in the end," said Strickler.
Upcoming Cursillo weekends are scheduled for the Strathcona Wilderness Centre May 23-26 for men and June 6-9 for women.