This year, a Catholic tradition and spiritual experience that originated across the Atlantic is celebrating its 50th anniversary within the Diocese of Buffalo. The Cursillo movement, characterized by a three-day weekend retreat of prayer, discussion, reconciliation and reconnecting with Christ, is offered in many parishes of the diocese and is having a celebratory Mass on Aug. 15 for its golden anniversary.
Bishop Edward M. Grosz will say an anniversary Mass for Cursillo at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Spring Brook at 6:45 p.m. There will be a brief social in the parish following the Mass, and priests and deacons are invited to concelebrate. The following day, there will be a picnic at the home of Deacon Michael Quinn, the diocesan Cursillo spiritual advisor.
"There will probably be, I'm guessing, 400 or 500 people there," said Dennis Conklin, the movement's lay director. "A little over 6,000 people have made Cursillo in Buffalo and Western New York."
According to Conklin, the Cursillo movement will be establishing its home base in St. Vincent de Paul Parish as of Aug. 1, after having previously based activities at St. Ambrose Academy and Our Lady of Charity Parish in South Buffalo. In the 50 years Cursillo has existed in the diocese, it has been in many of the different parishes, with retreats being held in many different corresponding locations.
"We're like nomads," Conklin said. "We've been in 15 or 18 different locations over the 50 years. "The retreat is in a school gym. It usually begins with a men's weekend, following with a women's weekend. The men's weekend this year will be in October, and the women's in November."
Conklin has been the movement's lay director for nearly three years, with his anniversary approaching in November. After his wife introduced him to the movement, he became very involved and said his own experience with Cursillo changed his life.
"My experience was that I could not believe that men could share their faith like that," he said. "Usually, men are more quiet about their faith."
Cursillo retreats are open to any Catholic adult who is age 18 or older and is able to receive the sacraments. Many clergy, including priests and deacons, have attended over the years. The event includes private prayer sessions as well as the opportunity to receive the sacrament of reconciliation and meet other Catholics with the same interest in developing a deeper relationship with Christ.
Each Cursillo retreat lasts from Thursday through Saturday, typically starting on an evening and continuing until that Saturday afternoon. The retreats are characterized by a series of brief presentations, as given by both laypeople and clergy, after which participants meet in small groups for discussion.
"There are lay talks, there are priests and deacons who give spiritual talks," Conklin said. "Basically, they're all spiritual. There's a lot of singing and there's a lot of food, and they sleep overnight."
The Cursillo movement began in Spain in 1940. The name means "little course" in Spanish. In 1957, the first American Cursillo took place in Waco, Texas, with expansion to the Diocese of Buffalo in 1965. The leadership in each diocese includes a lay director, an ordained spiritual advisor and various other lay leaders.
Since then, there have been more than 200 Cursillo weekends in the diocese, including priests, deacons, sisters and laypeople. The existing members may sponsor new participants, often consisting of an existing Cursillo member sponsoring his or her newly initiated spouse. The Diocese of Buffalo hosts Ultreyas, monthly prayer groups for people who have already attended at least one Cursillo retreat.
People who are interested should visit the movement's website to fill out an application. Conklin said the movement distributes promotional materials in parishes via church bulletins, but much of the interest in Cursillo comes from people who spread the news via word of mouth and invite friends and family members to join them on another retreat in the future, often serving as sponsors for them.
Conklin has some advice for anyone thinking about attending a Cursillo retreat.
"I usually just tell them my experience of how it affected my life," he said. "Our motto is, we 'make a friend, be a friend and bring that friend to Christ.' The key is to make a friend with that person and, through what they see in you, hopefully they will want the same thing."