History of Cursillo
Our beloved founder Eduardo Bonnin passed away in February of 2008. May he rest in peace.
Cursillo did not come to the Church as a spontaneous creation. It was rooted in the human soil of Spain. We can trace it back to the call of Pius XI. He wrote an encyclical in 1922, called UBI ARCANO in which hew was inviting the laity to become true leven of Christ in the human dough in order to counteract all anticlerical and anti-Christian influences of the world of the 20’s and 30’s. This is how Catholic Action was born. In Spain, the most active wing of Action Action were the young men and a great convention took place in December 1932.
At this gathering it was decided to try to stimulate the Christian faith in young people through a great pilgrimage to the Shrine of St. James in Compostella, an important place of prayer and Christian renewal since the Middle Ages. It was to be a true experience and affirmation of faith in the face of militant atheism and non-belief on th epart of those in public office. This pilgrimage was to take place on July 25th, 1937 the feast day of St. James.
Social and Religious Context
Spain the the early 30’s had an anti-clerical and an anti-Christian government and very militant. This government was encouraging the youth to be aggresasive and atheistic in education and in family life. The Church was subtly attacked. The Young Men’s Catholic Action wanted to show the whole Spainish world that faith was still alive and could be influential in daily life. They decided that a great pilgrimate to Compostella would be a visable way to oppose anti-Christian forces and consolidate and channel the Christian energy of young people.
Confrontation of the two camps in Spain lead to the civil war of 1936-1939 in which more than 500,000 people died. Today Christians honour thousands of martyrs who died for their faith. After the Civil war, dechristianisation was everywhere. It deprived the Church of a great number of her faithful. The situation underlined a blatant religious ignorance, a superificial Christian life too often bogged down into ritualism and external appearances. However, Christian charity governed some convinced Christians. In 1941 this deplorable situation touched the hearts of many young men who remained faithful to Christ and His message. They decided to work at transforming this society without Christ into one that was centered on Him. They relinked with the dieal of the Young Men’s Christian Action. They asked themselves the question: “WHAT SHOULD WE DO TO BECOME A LEVEN AND TO FORM CHRISTIANS INTO INSTRUMENTS OF THE GOSPEL IN THE WORLD TODAY”.
After reflection and prayer, they revived the idea of ten years previously, that of the pilgrimage of the young people to Compostella. They wished it to be an event of knowledge of faith, a deepening of the demands of faith and of a real commitment to Christ. This was an opportunity to share, to pray and to make gestures of brotherly love. To obtain good results, it was decided to prepare it through short courses (Cursillos given for diocesan leaders of the pilgrimage and to group leaders. These Cursillos were in three parts: the first dealt with the knowledge of faith, i.e. grace, faith obstacles to grace, scrames and life in grace; the second addressed the nature, leadership and aspects of Catholic Action; and the third tacked all the things about the pilgrimage and its organization. These Cursillos took place everywhere in Spain for many years. They lasted a full week. The pilgrimage took place, after many postponments, in July 1948. It gathered 70,000 young people from all of Spain and all of the south American countries. It was a success.
Of all the experiences during the preparation of the pilgrimage, one place took it with more seriousness with an “all out” attitude towards the “Cursillos”: the Island of Mallorca. Mallorca is one of the Baleares Islands. This island is a little bit out of the Spanish mainstream. Throughout its history is was independent, occupied for four centuries by Moslem Arabs of North Africa, re-conquered by the Spaniards, then by the French to become an independent kingdom with its own language, the Majorquin, half Catalan and half French. Mallorca, first Christian and then Muslim by invasion reverted to Christianity. Many statues of the Blessed Mother buried during the Muslim invasion wer rediscovered four hundred years later and became very venerated on the island.
Around 1850, Mallorca experienced a great expansion of religious fervour due to the activities of the many saints, both men and women. Its faith deepend and took root through the light manifested in numerous charitable institutions. This very alive faith was sustained in Mallorca even during the 30’s in spite of the great pressures from the government to introduce atheism everywhere, especially in the education system. The civil war touched mainly continental Spain.
The arrival of Catholic Action on the island mainly among the young people was an instrument which brought about change and improvement in their midst. They enthusiastically entered into the project of the big pilgrimage to Compostella. Five “Cursillos” were made in the context of Catholic Action at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lluc. There as a sense of excitement in preparing the pilgrimage. Their enthusiasm and the depth of their faith made them a numerous group radiating their convictions on the march to Compostella.
A Providential Man
In Holy Week of 1943, a “cursillo” took place in Lluc. Eduardo Bonnin was a participant. Under the pressure of Jose Ferragut, an architect and one of his friends, he agreed to go. Eduardo came from a very Christian family of ten children. His father, an almond exporter, was afraid of the non-Christian influence prevalent even in the “so-called” Catholic schools. His children received a good Christian education from a Christian tutor, closely supervised by him. Eduardo was, therefore, well protected from negative influences and anti-Christian education. His faith was deepened in a favourable environment. This gave to his family a priest and a Carmelite nun. In his teens he began his compulsory military service which lasted nine years.
During one of his holidays from the service he made his “cursillo”. His experience in the army led him to discover that the heart of man is goodf and that love is its motor: love given and love received and accepted. He discovered also the value of friendship and its beauty through life in the military quarters. This marked him for the rest of his life. He discovered also that faith helps us to be more human and happier. The human search is unsatisfied without God. Therefore, he came to Lluc with his Christian journey already begun.
The enthusiasm, the simplicity of the Christian message in all its fundamental elements such as the motivation to be leven, the joy of sharing and depth of prayer opened his eyes and his heart to much more. The idea of pilgrimage led him to go beyond the pilgrimage to Compostella, to embrace the concept of the pilgrimage to the Father to which we are all invited. In his reflection, he wished that the “Cursillos” be opened to all. That it is centered on the basics of faith but with all the enthusiasm and the joy of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. He thought that a full week for a cursillo was impossible to most people. He suggested a three day weekend instead. In his “cursillo” and in the days that followed, he deepened an idea in his heart to have a better world.
Environments mounds the intelligence, the heart and the life of a person. Each person has the right to be happy according to God’s gift. To allow each person the opportunity to achieve his or her human and divine perfection, we have to restore the environments according to God’s will. Eduardo presented the result of his thinking to a Catholic Action Leaders’s School in Palma de Mallorca on December 8th, 1943. His talk was accepted as an integral part of the Catholic Action “Cursillos” for young peole. In the history of the “Cursillos in Christianity”, this was the first rollo written of our actual Cursillo presentations.
First Cursillo As We Know It
Eduardo Bonnin was an articulated thinker, an apostle restless about a world withhout God, about unhappy people and Christians without joy. He was a Christian Leader willing to conquer the world for Christ starting with himself.
In the Young Men’s Catholic Action of Mallorca he was in contact and in friendship with many other Christians like himself. Eduardo loved to meet other young people to reflect, to pray and to plan a way to make a more Christian world. He was convinced that the ignorance about faith was the source of a godless world. He invited six others to jim him. Together they started a systematic study of the Gospels with assignments, under the supervision of Fr. Gabriel Segui, M.S.C. He corrected their homework every week. They felt that it was important to know Christ and His message better before speaking about Christ to others. The situation in the world and in the Church was worrying them. They decided to pray together by going to mass early in the morning. Moreover, knowing their enviromnent was a key topic for their study. Every Sundy the seven founders cycled to a wuiet place and under the leadership of Eduardo each one would go and sit under a trea and read a chapter from a book, either from a theologian or a sociologist. Their authors were the most leading Christian thinkers of their time. After a period of study, they would all come to share together to share their discoveries. An apostolic action has to be well grounded to be efficient. When one wants to do a good job, one must study well. Concurrently, the seven were involved in the faith in the name of Christ and in their own environments.
In searching for a solution to remedy the ignorance of faith, the superficiality of ritualism and the apathy of non faith commitment in daily life, they decided to make their own form of Cursillo. At the beginning they did not look for a name but for a real format for this weekend. The first rollo was already done: the study of environment. To permeate environments and make them Christian, they started to reflect on other topics to be developed so that a good in-depth survey of the truths of faith would be well covered, in order to bring true growth in faith and effectivge commitment to Christ. All rollos as we know them, in the same order, were presented on the first Cursillo. The weekend was lived in a little chalet near the Mediterranean Sea at a place called Cala Figuera de Santanyi, from August 19-22, 1944. There were 14 candidates. All the priests’ rollos were the same ones Eduardo heard on his “cursillo” in Catholic Action. The success was tremendous. Eduardo and his friends co-ordinated and directed the weekend. The priest came for the spiritual rollos, masa and confessions and did not stay on the premises. The “retreat” part of Thursday night to Friday morning was added a few years laqter under the influence of Fr. Juan Capo. In the beginning all new Cursillistas were integrated right away into permanent group reunions to accletate their permanent conversion and their spiritual growth.
Before the first numbered official Cursillo of January 7-10, 1949, there had been five other Cursillos.
Cursillo, in its beginnings, was targeting those from away from God and the Church.
The seven founders, in looking around, noticed that all the practicing Catholics were well taken care of spiritually. In their apostolic zeal, they saw that nobody cared about the faraway so they decided that they would reach out to bring them to God. In their reflections on the person and the best means to reach them, they discovered that friendship, i.e. uncomditional love for the other, was the way to the heart and to conversion. “MAKE A FRIEND, BE A FRIEND, AND BRING OUR FRIEND TO CHRIST” is the strategy they followed.
In January of 1949, Bishop Juan Hervas, Bishop of Palma de Mallorca decided to open Cursillo to more people outside Catholic Action. This first year, thirty Cursillos were held. This avalanche created a problem. The new Cursillistas were too numerous to be integrated into permanent groups, so Eduardo invented Ultreya. Ultreya is the place to accelerate the conversion started during the three days, wher one receives the love that maintains the growth effort and also stimulates apostolic commitment. The Ultreya is a happy place, filled with joy, enthusiasm and where each is at the service of the other and at the service of the world in evangelizsation. Ultreya is also the place where one makes friends and finds a permament group reunion.
The history of the beginnings of Cursillo is a sacred history. We read with amazement the vitality and the growth of Christianity as told in the Acts of the Apostles. Cursillo is a modern version of the Acts. In their study and prayer for finding a way to make a difference in the world of their day, the founders were looking for a way to change the world. They found it in the Gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles. In studying their society and one of the first Christians they were suprised to find so many similarities. They said to themselves “if the first Christians succeeded in changing th epagan world in which they lived, we can change ours using the same means. Let us go back to charity between us and recapture the same enthusiasm in the service of Christ”. Jesus said “Love one another as I have loved you” John 15:12. This worked so well that the pagans themselves saw it and said “See how they love one another”. The Acts detail they did, it is up to us do do likewise”.
Cursillo is the experience of the first Christians for the world of today. To recapture for ourelves the gift of God (the charism) for His Church is the way for the Cursillo Movement to renew itself, to reviatlize and to become more efficient in today’s world. All the power of God is attached to His gift. To stay away from it would be to deprive the Movement of the power of the gift of the beginnings.
Glory to You, O Lord, for the gift of Cursillo and for your special messengers called our founders!
Fr. Gaston Rioux, O.M.I. Fr. Gaston is Spiritual Director for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Cursillos
In Mallorca there was a murder case in which two young men who had been found guilty of murder, were to be executed. A few days before the sentence was carried out, the prison chaplain visited the local office of Catholic Action and requested that two young men visit the condemned prisoners to try to persuade them to go to confession before they were executed. He thought that perhaps laymen would be able to reach them for they would have nothing to do with him.
At the time, Eduardo Bonin was president of the youth chapter of Catholic Action and he decided to undertake the mission himself with the vice-president, Andres Rullan.
They asked many people to pray. There were some who went without sleep that night praying for this intention.
The night before the execution they went in great fear to the prison. The prisoners had asked for their last wishes. Eduardo was told that when condemned prisoners are asked their last wishes, some request to see family members to say goodbye, or some desire to write a letter to friends. In this case, the prisoners had asked for some “paella” and when they arrived were eating and smoking cigars that their fellow prisoners had given them.
Their attitude seemed as if they were not worried at all but Eduardo noticed that their laughter and jokes were forced, trying to cover up the inner anxiety they were feeling.
Looking at the scene, their own fears increased and Eduardo asked the prisoner director for permission to let them take the place of the guards. When this was granted, they began talking to the prisoners, listening to their stories. They invoked the aid of the Holy Spirit relying on Him and in the prayers of their brothers. They began by telling the prisoners that they were the most fortunate men in the world.
They explained that they were going to ask them to intercede for them because if they wished it, at dawn, they could be in heaven. They also explained to the prisoners that when a person has been entrusted to undertake an important mission, he will find friends everywhere and now they were seeking their intercession when they appeared before Our Father in heaven.
They explained that they were seeking their intercession with Our Lord for them and their plans in the Cursillo. No ones knows the day of one’s death unless by special revelation, however, they knew that at dawn the would be executed and they should realize that when a person faces the hour of his death and is in the Grace of Our Lord, all is saved, but if he is not, then all is lost. Neither the Pope nor bishop, nor any priest, nor any man or woman know the day nor the hour of his death, whereas they were in a somewhat privileged position becuse if they would properly arrange their “passport”, if they would place themselves in the Grace of God, in other words, confess, they would be in a postion to repeat what happened on Mount Calvary when Our Lord said to the good thief, “Now you will be with me in Paradise,” in other workds, if they wished they could fix their date in Paradise.
These prisoners at first thought that this was too good to be true but as they continued their dialogue they opened up, relating stories of thier own lives, and gradually they sounded more reasonable. Obviously the prayers of the people were reaching heaven and Divine Grace started to penetrate their hearts.
At one point, they recalled their youth and how wretchedly they had behaved towards their parents. One of the prisoners requested to write to his family but he could not finish the letter and instead dictated to Eduardo what he wnated to write.
In the meantime there were priests ready to hear their confession and after a few hours of talking, they finally agreed willingly to go to confession.
In the prison a member of the military court asked one of his members, “did you see the prisoners?” and he answered, “Yes, I saw them, they are like ‘prison fodder”, but once they had received the sacrament of confession, their attitude changed and even the expression on their faces changed. The one who had said “they are like fodder”, after hearing their high spirits in spite of what awaited them, told the prisoners, “You have given me a lesson in courage!”
At dawn the priest celebrated the Mass and Adres Rullan, the two young men adn Eduardo attended. They all went to communion, after which they had breakfast together. Eduardo was so nervous that he could not eat. When they had finished breakfast the hour had come.
Undoubtedly, the most impressive scene was their last words of farewell, when one said to the other, “Well, until we meet again before Our Father”.
The executioner was waiting, and with a cold voice he said, “Take your seat, handsome”. The prisoner was made to sit on what looked like an old barber’s chair, a black hood was placed over his head. At that moment Eduardo and Andres went to the chapel to pray before the tabernacle. At that moment, when the executioner was about to proceed, the prisoner, Andre Trobat shouted, “Eduardo”.
Eduardo went running towards him and he said, “Why don’t you lend me your crucifix?” Eduardo gave it to him and he died kissing it. Diring the night, whilst talking to prisoners, Eduardo had held in hands the crucifix which he always had with him. The condemned man had asked what it was, and Eduardo told him it was the image of Christ to Whom he was praying for words that would convince him of the Truth. In the prisoner’s last moments heshowed that he understood the meaning of the crucifix.
When the turn of the other prisoner came, Eduardo told him, “YOur friend asked for my crucifix. Do you also want it?” “Of course I do,” he said. And he died kissing it.
In the talks that lasted until dawn and after they had gone to confession, Eduardo talked to them about the Cursillo. He asked them to remember them and their Cursillo, from heaven.
There were some people who, distorting the facts, say that the Cursillos began as a result of these executions, but that is not accurate. The executions took place in January 1949 and the Cursillos had already begun in 1944.
The priest who was with the prisoners up to the end, after returning the crucifix to Eduardo, said, “I am morally certain that these young men are now in heaven”.
There have been times when in some Cursillos, things have not been going well and Eduardo and others have talked about “their” prisoners in their prayers to the Lord, and they have complied as they said they would.
The following was the letter written at 12 midnight, 28 January, 1949 from Palma de Mallorca to the family of Juan Trobat.
Dearest family, so close to my heart, These lines I am writing are the last you will receive from your son and brother. I am writing them more with my heart than with my pen and I hope you will keep them with you until the end of your life.
I am now in the chapel, and have only a few hours remaining before I leave this life.
After my life of ill luck, and being the victim of wrong environments, God has granted me the extraordinary grace of enabling me to recognize my past faults and making peace with Him. He has given me this opportunity for sincere confession, which ahs opened, little by little, the gates of Heaven.
It only remains for me to ask your pardon for all the heartaches I gave you during my life, with my straying, to recommend to my brothers whom I love with all my heart never to stray from the path of duty that you,my parents taught us to follow.
I hope that these lines which I am writing during the last moments of my life will serve to express my apologies for all the disappointments and troubles which I have caused during my life and may this serve as advise to my brothers to lead their lives as God expects from His faithful servants.
I have reached the end of my life. Thank God for giving me these moments to make amends for my past life and to die as men who die in faith.
I am surrounded by people who are trying to alleviate my pain. Only faith gives me the courage and the energy to bear this great trouble.
If you want to know more details of our last moments you can write our Chaplain Jose M. Fabian Rubio, who can give you more details of my last hours in this world. But be assured, I am going to heaven. There we will live happily for all eternity. Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in You.
My last thoughts on Earth are for you.
Goodbye until Eternity, your son and brother who waits you in heaven Juan Trobat
The above account was originally written in the first person and is the account of what happened in “the prison story” from Eduardo himself.