Diane Coates

Diane Coates

July 7, 2014
CHRIS MILLER
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Allan Forsberg said sharing his faith with people in the Church is simple because they share his ideas and ideals. It's those not active in the Church with whom it is difficult to discuss God's love.

"I have trouble talking to people, including my own family, who are not church people," said Forsberg.

"Partly it's fear of being misunderstood, fear of being judged a weird religious nut, rather than someone who's just trying to help other people realize how much God loves them."

Forsberg, who lives in Grande Prairie, said the Cursillo movement is teaching him "how to be Church in the world, and not just do Church things."

Passionate about Cursillo, he has been actively involved ever since it transformed his life 20 years ago.

"Christianity is so easy to talk about but so difficult to live," said Forsberg, one of 65 people who attended the national Cursillo conference at The King's University College in Edmonton June 19 to 22.

Cursillo is based on the belief that a great multitude of people need to be touched by the love of Christ, people who may never have contact with the Church or a priest. It is only through encounters with Catholics in their workplaces or in other non-church settings that the possibility of conversion arises.

SHORT COURSE

Cursillo, a Spanish word for "short course," is a method of bringing Jesus into everyday environments.

The Cursillo shows lay people how to become effective Christian leaders over the course of a three-day weekend. The weekend includes 15 talks, some given by priests and some by lay people.

The major emphasis of the weekend is to ask participants to take what they have learned back into the world, on what they call the "fourth day".

Eduardo Bonnin founded the Cursillo movement in 1944.

Diane Coates, a Cursillo representative from the Toronto Archdiocese, told the Edmonton conference that Bonnin grew up in a Catholic faith environment, and God was his ideal, and the focus of his life.

Once drafted into the military, however, Bonnin saw how his fellow soldiers were far removed from God, estranged from the Gospel. This situation worried him. He wanted everyone he met to understand that God loves them.

Bonnin started Cursillo on the Spanish island of Mallorca by meeting with like-minded Catholics. Collectively they learned that the best means to reach out to others is through friendship.

Unconditional love for others was the way to the heart and to conversion. They followed the strategy of "Make a friend, be a friend, and bring our friend to Christ."

"Eduardo saw the other soldiers in the barracks, and they were quite different from him," said Father Patrick O'Meara, from Yarmouth, N.S., national spiritual advisor for the Cursillo movement.

"Church didn't mean to them what it meant to him," O'Meara said. "But he saw their giftedness and, by becoming a friend with them, he showed them the love that God has for them."

Manchiu Wong is a lay director with the Cursillo movement in Toronto. Of Bonnin, he said, "His mission was really grand. His mission was nothing less than rebuilding and restructuring Christianity. It is literally putting Christianity into action for others to see."

Coates said the focus of Cursillo is neither parish ministry nor evangelizing to those already active in the Church. "Cursillo does not call us to ministry in the Church, but in the world."

Coates said her parents were far removed from God. Her father, who was raised a Catholic, stopped attending church at a young age. She described her father as a severe alcoholic.

Her mother converted to Catholicism to be married in the Church, but her conversion was not genuine. She resented the Church, resented priests and made it clear that she was an atheist.

After her own three-day Cursillo, Coates became deeply concerned about her parents' souls. She recognized that they would not be so miserable if only they knew God's love.

She viewed her father as a suffering soul filled with despair, guilt and a sense of unworthiness. She forgave her father, not when he cleaned up his act, but in his drunken state.

"Who would have shared God's love with my parents, who were so far away from God, if not me? Who was concerned for their salvation and eternal life with God if not me?" she asked.

"Who would bring a priest to them prior to their deaths so that they could be reconciled to God, if not me?"

APPEAL TO THE HOLY SPIRIT

After she prayed persistently and sought guidance from the Holy Spirit on what to say, both her parents accepted Jesus into their lives. It took two years for her father to accept Jesus' friendship and love. Her mother did not accept Jesus until 25 years later.

"God never gives up seeking out his lost sheep, nor did I. This is the mission of Cursillo. The Church asks us to bring the Gospel to those who have never heard it," she said. "You may be the only Gospel that some people ever read."

Sheelagh Winston was raised a Methodist. After converting to Catholicism, she questioned where Jesus was, the Jesus she loved as a child.

THREE ENCOUNTERS

"That's what Cursillo does. You do these three encounters. The first is an encounter with yourself, then an encounter with Christ alive and close to you, and the last one is an encounter with other people," said Winston, a secretary and resource person for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Cursillos.

"Cursillo is all about friendship, which is what Jesus was with the apostles. He said, 'I do not call you slaves anymore because a slave doesn't know what his master is doing. I have called you friends.'

"The method is to first reach the heart of the person through friendship," said Winston.