Question: "What is the Cursillo movement?"
Answer: The Cursillo movement is a Catholic-based training program that started in Majorca, Spain, in the 1940s. A group of men put together a week-long training event for Catholics preparing to make a pilgrimage to the Shrine of St. James at Compostela. Later, the training was shortened to three days and adapted to target change in community life rather than prepare for pilgrimage. The full title of the event was Cursillos de Christiandad, which means “little courses in Christianity” or “short course of Christianity.” The Cursillo movement spread from Spain to Mexico and South America, then to French-speaking Canada, and then around the world. Today, Cursillo weekends are held in more than 60 countries.
Over the course of three days (Thursday evening to Sunday), participants (called “cursillistas”) listen to fifteen different spiritual talks about the Christian life. Leaders of Cursillo emphasize the non-academic nature of the course: the talks relate real-life experiences, which become the basis for small-group discussions. Along with the testimonies are times of music, prayer, Christian service, and contemplation.
After a Cursillo event, participants are encouraged to take what they learned that weekend and apply it to their daily lives. Life after the Cursillo weekend is referred to as the “fourth day.” Participants are then invited to group reunions and larger gatherings called Ultreya (“to go further”).
From the beginning, Cursillo has sought to be ecumenical, and the program has been adapted for use in several other churches. Some offshoots of the Cursillo movement include Tres Dias, Walk to Emmaus (Cursillo for Methodists), Journey to Damascus, Great Banquet, Diaspora, Jubilee Journey, Discipleship Walk, Faith Walk, Journey Through Faith, DeColores Ministries, Awakening, Chrysalis (for teens), and Kairos (a prison ministry). All these variations of Cursillo fall under the umbrella of the “three-day movement.” The movement is promoted by the World Body of Cursillos in Christianity.
There are a few aspects of the Cursillo movement and its offshoots that should cause believers to be wary. First is the movement’s origin in Roman Catholicism. Cursillo proper is unabashedly Catholic, although it is open to non-Catholics as well. Websites for Cursillo are fond of quoting Pope John Paul II. Second, the Cursillo movement promotes ecumenism, which can be problematic for many Bible-believers. Third, participants in Cursillo seek subjective, mystical experiences. They may or may not be encountering God, but the subjectivity is such that a major Cursillo website declines to fully describe what it’s all about: “The Cursillo experience is fundamentally mysterious because it deals with the most fundamental of all mysteries, which is God” (http://cursillos.ca/en/faq/f02-description.htm, May 5, 2016).
Finally, as in most ecumenical movements, the gospel is in danger of being watered down in Cursillo-related programs. Again from a Cursillo website: “The Cursillo Movement (CM) has as its goal to share with the community the essence of Christianity and Christian values and in this way gradually transform the community from within” (http://cursillos.ca/en/faq/f01-but.htm, May 5, 2016). Note there is no mention of the gospel here—the “essence of Christianity” could be the gospel, but that’s not clear—leaving only “Christian values” to transform a community. Also on the same site: “The CM invites christians [sic] to build a world, founded on the rock of love and friendship. But evangelization has to come from within, based on the strength and energy of personal conversion.” The Bible speaks of Christ building His church and of the Spirit empowering believers to evangelize. The Cursillo movement speaks of other things.
In the Protestant adaptations of Cursillo, there is probably much good that takes place. Christians gathering to pray, fellowship, and challenge each other to a deeper spiritual walk is biblical (2 Corinthians 13:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13). Much depends on the organizers of the individual events and the leaders present. Believers invited to attend a Cursillo-based event should use discernment and carefully investigate the group and its leaders beforehand.