Cursillo participants say spirit-filled weekends are Church's 'best-kept secret'

“Cursillistas” — those who have made a Cursillo weekend — gather in prayer during a follow-up gathering, called an "ultreya" at St. Benedict Parish in Waterford on May 24. Those who have participated in a Cursillo weekend in the Archdiocese of Detroit say it's one of the local Church's best-kept secrets, and a source of spiritual refreshment for those who attend. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

Cursillo movement, which started in Spain in 1944, emphasizes intensive prayer, study and Christian fellowship, local members say

WATERFORD — As Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron’s Unleash the Gospel pastoral letter became known around the Archdiocese of Detroit in 2017, members of the Detroit Cursillo movement were excited.

The messages in the letter complements their mission perfectly, they say. Yet, leaders wonder why so many have never heard of Cursillo.

“People who have made the weekend tell us, ‘This is the best-kept secret in the Catholic Church,’” said Ann Sliney, lay director for Cursillo Detroit.

Cursillo means “short course” in Spanish. The program, similar to a retreat, immerses lay participants in the Gospel and the teachings of the Catholic Church, then challenges them to continue growing in their faith and to share their love of Christ in their everyday lives going forward.

Cursillo, which means "short course" in Spanish, is not meant to be a one-time weekend retreat, but rather a series of faith-enriching gatherings that inspire participants to place the Gospel at the center of their lives, said Ann Sliney, lay director of Cursillo Detroit. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)
Cursillo, which means "short course" in Spanish, is not meant to be a one-time weekend retreat, but rather a series of faith-enriching gatherings that inspire participants to place the Gospel at the center of their lives, said Ann Sliney, lay director of Cursillo Detroit. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

The movement was launched in Spain in 1944 by Eduardo Bonnin, who was inspired by an address given by Pope Pius XII encouraging the Church to look for “new roads” to help people know the love of God. The movement is recognized by the Holy See and began in Detroit in the late 1960s. In part because of the impact of Cursillo, the process for Bonnin’s beatification and canonization began in 2015.

Kairos retreats, held regularly at Catholic high schools and colleges, derived from the Cursillo movement, as did Alpha, Encounter, Awaken (for college students) and others. Other Christian denominations have adapted Cursillo to fit their own faith tradition.

People who choose to “make a Cursillo” spend a three-day weekend learning, praying and listening to talks, or rollos, which include personal testimony from past participants and clergy. After the weekend, members are encouraged to form or join a group reunion, a small group of up to six “Cursillistas” — those who have made a Cursillo weekend — that meets weekly or monthly to continue growing together.

In addition, short monthly gatherings called ultreyas, meaning “onward,” bring all the group reunions together to touch base and pray. For convenience, ultreyas are hosted monthly in five locations around southeast Michigan, as well as one virtual meeting per month. Ultreyas are held at St. Malachy Parish in Sterling Heights, St. Benedict Parish in Waterford, St. Joseph Parish in Trenton, and St. Andrew Parish in Rochester.

Cursillo weekend participants pose for a photo at the Maryville Retreat Center in Holly, where Cursillo weekend retreats usually take place in the Archdiocese of Detroit. After each weekend experience, participants are invited to join small groups that meet regularly, as well as gather once a month for regular prayer and fellowship. (Courtesy of Ann Sliney)
Cursillo weekend participants pose for a photo at the Maryville Retreat Center in Holly, where Cursillo weekend retreats usually take place in the Archdiocese of Detroit. After each weekend experience, participants are invited to join small groups that meet regularly, as well as gather once a month for regular prayer and fellowship. (Courtesy of Ann Sliney)

Cursillo weekends take place at the Maryville Retreat Center in Holly.

Sliney attended a Cursillo weekend 30 years ago after her husband, who is now a deacon, made a Cursillo and encouraged her to do the same.

“Of any spiritual encounter I’ve ever had, Cursillo impacted me the most,” Sliney told Detroit Catholic. “It teaches you about your faith and about the three pillars of Christian life: piety, study and action. Those are the three areas we’re always working on to walk the Christian life with grace.”

Sliney notes that the three pillars reflect “encounter, grow, and witness,” the threefold process for evangelization in Unleash the Gospel.

Cursillo made a life-changing impact on Claudia Morreale when she attended in 2018. Morreale had given up her career to stay home with her kids, and though she knew the decision was the right one, she felt lost at times. She had been going to Bible studies and craved more.

“I remember when I received my first holy Communion, I was so excited. I loved learning about Jesus, but I didn’t even realize I was receiving the actual body and blood of Christ,” Morreale said. “As I got older, there was something missing. I wasn’t learning, and my faith was stagnant. My Cursillo weekend catapulted me into my Catholic faith and made me want to keep learning every day after that.”

Cursillo participants pray and talk in the chapel at St. Benedict Parish in Waterford. The parish hosts one of four regular "ultreya" gatherings in the Archdiocese of Detroit. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)
Cursillo participants pray and talk in the chapel at St. Benedict Parish in Waterford. The parish hosts one of four regular "ultreya" gatherings in the Archdiocese of Detroit. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

Deacon Tom Mohan, who serves the Lakes Vicariate 3 Family of Parishes, made a Cursillo weekend in December 2021. Through friends and parishioners at St. Benedict Parish in Waterford, he saw the Holy Spirit at work in the movement.

“If I see the Holy Spirit in something, I gravitate to it,” Deacon Mohan said. “God has always led me to have the attitude of a beginner.”

He now recommends Cursillo to friends and in his role as a deacon. Since December, Deacon Mohan has served as a spiritual director at ultreya gatherings.

Eventually, Sliney would like to see a Cursillo ambassador at each parish to share the impact of Cursillo with parishioners, answer questions and help them connect with past participants.

“I have seen the change in parishes where priests value Cursillo as a tool and add it to their prayer intentions or talk about it with parishioners," Sliney said. "One person makes a Cursillo weekend, and soon that person invites another, and before you know it, the parish blossoms.”

In thinking about Cursillo, Deacon Mohan refers to Acts 2:39: “For the promise is made to you and to your children, and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.”

Mike Carter leads praise and worship during a Cursillo weekend retreat at the Maryville Retreat Center in Holly. (Courtesy of Ann Sliney)
Mike Carter leads praise and worship during a Cursillo weekend retreat at the Maryville Retreat Center in Holly. (Courtesy of Ann Sliney)

God is using Cursillo for everyone, no matter where he or she might be in the journey of faith, Deacon Mohan said.

“For me, I wasn’t ‘far off.’ I was in a relationship with Christ, but Cursillo is for the person who is looking always to go deeper,” Deacon Mohan said. “So it’s also for the person who is far off — it’s for anyone who’s along that continuum. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how much theological training you might have, the Holy Spirit is calling you to go deeper with the Lord.”

Patrick Cross has been a member of Cursillo since 1997, when he was invited to make a Cursillo weekend. After some convincing, he signed up and now believes it was one of the best decisions of his life.

“It ended up changing every relationship. I’m a better dad, husband, son, friend,” Cross said. “My heart blew open and I realized Chris loves me. And He’s asking us to do something, to be ministers of His word, to be Christ in our relationships, to go forward and be His disciples. He’s asking us to bloom where we’re planted and to evangelize where we are, much like Unleash the Gospel.”

An "ultreya" participant prays during a circle prayer at St. Benedict Parish in Waterford. Cursillo participants are encouraged to sponsor others before, during and after Cursillo weekend retreats, praying for that person and including them in regular intentions. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)
An "ultreya" participant prays during a circle prayer at St. Benedict Parish in Waterford. Cursillo participants are encouraged to sponsor others before, during and after Cursillo weekend retreats, praying for that person and including them in regular intentions. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

In keeping with the Cursillo motto of “Make a friend, be a friend, and be a friend to Christ,” Cursillo participants are sponsored by a past participant. The sponsor commits to getting to know the participant, praying for the person before and during the weekend, and staying in touch with them for a year or more.

Cross has sponsored several men over the years. He also meets regularly with his group reunion and attends Cursillo weekends as a group leader. As the Men’s three-day coordinator for Cursillo Detroit, Cross organizes the leadership team for the weekends, which are held twice a year.

Since her Cursillo experience four years ago, Morreale has immersed herself in parish life and assists at Cursillo weekends. She is no longer afraid to make the sign of the cross at restaurants, and she regularly asks strangers whether she can pray for them when she sees a need.

“Cursillo gives you so much courage. The whole weekend is about our loving and merciful God,” Morreale said. “You leave the weekend on fire, and you want everybody to feel that way.”

Learn more about Cursillo

For information about Cursillo, contact Ann Sliney at (248) 703-8402 or visit www.cursillodetroit.com. To learn more about the Spanish-language Cursillo gatherings, contact Deacon Raul Feliciano at (313) 712-9981.



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