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The Cursillo Movement of the Archdiocese of Toronto
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History of the Cursillo Movement

(By permission of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Cursillos)

The birthplace of the Cursillo Movement is Mallorca.

History shows that this beautiful island was occupied first by the Romans, then for four centuries by the Moors of North Africa, re-conquered by the Spaniards and then the French. It eventually became an independent kingdom. Today it is a part of Spain.

During the occupation by the Moors, Christianity was forced underground and Islam became the religion of the island. Four hundred years later the people reverted to Christianity. In the 1930s, the leftist Republican government of Spain attempted to introduce atheism into all aspects of Spanish life, especially the education system.

But Christianity lives within the Mallorcan soul; the faith of the people is deeply rooted in the Gospel. In the 1930s the Spanish Civil War brought depression and bloodshed even to Mallorca. The events that took place and their effects on society ignited a burning passion in many of the Spanish youth, and they responded to a call from the Pope to begin a crusade declaring Christ as Saviour.

In an attempt to show the world that faith was alive in Spain, thousands of youth were organized into a spiritual army that was destined to make a great pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, the ancient shrine of St James the Apostle, in northern Spain. 600 young people from Mallorca joined the pilgrimage, which eventually took place in 1948.

The organization of the pilgrimage was undertaken by Catholic Action, created in Italy by Pope Pius XI, and which had later spread to Spain. It operated at the diocesan and national levels and its sole purpose was to take 100,000 youths to Santiago on the pilgrimage.

The method entailed training leaders in what was known as ‘Cursillos (short courses) for Pilgrim Leaders', at the diocesan level, and ‘Cursillos for Pilgrim Guides', at the parish level.

Catholic Action cursillos had the specific purpose of preparing young men, spiritually and materially, for the pilgrimage to Santiago. They were focused exclusively towards the wealthy young men from the upper classes, students of the schools and colleges run by the great religious orders who already belonged to Catholic Action. Each ‘cursillo' lasted for an entire week. But in the dark days following the civil war, there were many people who seemed blind and deaf to the Gospel of Christ. They needed to hear a different message proclaimed in a different way.

The Holy Spirit devised a new method, a new way, so that the Good News would reach people in a direct and personal manner, reaching each within their own community. The Spirit chose ‘one' from among them and infused in him the Charism of Cursillo. He would become an instrument who would share the Good News with everyone, but especially with those who were far from God and His Church. During Holy Week of 1943, this young man, Eduardo Bonnin, was approaching his 25th birthday. For the previous five years he had been in the army, doing his mandatory military service, which ultimately lasted for nine years. Eduardo grew up in a devout Catholic family and his environment consisted solely of friends and acquaintances who were practising Catholics, young men from the middle and rural classes. These young people spent their leisure time enjoying activities that revolved around the parochial world of the clergy and under the ideology of Catholic Action.

Something about Eduardo was different. He was and remained a deep thinker and avid reader. He was greatly influenced by the writings of the current and popular authors of that time. Although driven by a constant obsession to satisfy his religious yearning, he undertook his journey at the level of his personal freedom.

His experiences in the military gave him the opportunity to discover another social class. Every day he had to face the living reality of those with whom he shared the barracks, and he realized that their lives were very different from the lives of his Catholic family and friends, those he was used to and with whom he had shared many experiences.

The diocesan president of the Mallorca branch of Catholic Action knew Eduardo and recognized in him someone he considered to be a prime candidate for leadership in Catholic Action. He invited Eduardo to the second ‘cursillo' for Pilgrim Leaders that was to take place at the monastery of Lluc during Holy Week of 1943. Eduardo, who the leaders sensed, was an independent and free spirit, accepted the invitation.

From what he saw, and what he heard that week, he extracted those ideas and concepts that he felt he could apply and use to satisfy the restlessness that disturbed him. He wanted to find a way to take the reality of Christian life to the real environments, those environments where the young men of the barracks lived. Besides preparing for the pilgrimage, he felt that the ideal thing would be to find a similar way to interest people in the other pilgrimage, the pilgrimage towards the Father, which all of life is, and to do it in such a way so as to ensure that the message would also reach, in fact, mainly those, who were not Christian in their inner being, or who did not think that they were Christians, the ‘far away' from God.

The living Christ of the Gospel became Eduardo's ‘north star', his constant motivation and his guide. Following the plan of the Holy Spirit he studied the environments, outlined the method to his young acquaintances. From then on, they began to win friends, writing the Good News on the hearts of those they came in contact with. He outlined his thinking in a paper which he named The Study of the Environment, which, being properly understood, is known in Mallorca as the dorsal fin of the Cursillo Movement, the rudder. The Study of the Environment took shape and form when it was presented by Eduardo in the diocesan seminary of Mallorca on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8th, 1943. It was a moment of Grace, a moment of the Charism. Through the Power of the Holy Spirit, what became known throughout the entire world as the Cursillo Movement, had just begun.

The breath of the Spirit touched Eduardo early in his life, impregnating his soul with the Good News of a close and a living Christ, who loves us in the normality of our lives. He was then, and still called himself to the end of his life, an apprentice Christian; filled with faith, touched by the Holy Spirit. After many years of reading and meditation, consultation and prayers, the Ideal of his life was to share with as many as possible that God loves us. For him, it was especially important to reach those ‘far away' from God, inviting them to live in Grace by means of one method.

Eduardo shared his ideas with some of the young people from Catholic Action; Ferragut, Font, Rullan, Moncada and Riutort and they too became infected with this new method. Together they decided to put it into practice. With fourteen candidates, the very first 3 day Cursillo weekend in history was held in August, 1944.

In his own words, Bonnin says: "All of the structure of what is today a 'Cursillo in Christianity' was forged in the weeks leading up to that Cursillo held in a small home at Cala Figuera in Mallorca."

The Spirit was present during those days in Cala Figuera. From that point on, with simplicity and the power of the mustard seed, the method, the essence and purpose of the Cursillo Movement, born from the spirit of pilgrimage and structured by Eduardo Bonnin, spread throughout the entire world, acquiring a universal reality.

In 1947, Bishop Juan Hervás was appointed co-adjutor bishop of Mallorca. He very soon became aware of the efforts of Eduardo and his friends and was very positive about what, in 1948, they already meant. The official support made it feasible that from 1949 on, many people who had formerly been unreachable for them could now become a part of the Cursillos in Christianity.

A young flight lieutenant in the Spanish air force participated in Cursillo. Shortly afterward he was sent for a training program to a military base near Laredo, Texas. This was near Waco, in the diocese of Austin. It happened that a Franciscan from Mallorca was also working there. He had made a Cursillo in his home country years before and was looking for ways to establish the movement in his new home.

The Mallorcan leaders put the young airman through a crash course in the Cursillo method. When he left, his bags carried more Cursillo material than personal belongings. When he arrived he found another Spanish officer who was also a Cursillista. Eventually, through the work of these three, the first Cursillo in the United States was held in the diocese of Austin in May, 1957. This Cursillo was followed by many others in the US and eventually the Movement moved into Canada in 1963, crossing the border to Vancouver,

In the intervening years, the Movement spread across the country until by 1990 it was established and active in eight of the ten provinces in Canada.

The first Cursillo in Toronto took place in November 1963 with the help of a team from Detroit. In 1966 Pope Paul VI designated Cursillo a renewal movement of the Church and named St. Paul as patron.

Since then, the Toronto Movement has held well over 275 Cursillo weekends and has spread Cursillo to other dioceses, and as well to the Anglican Church, the Presbyterian Church and the United Church.

In 1984 it was instrumental in the creation of Canadian Conference of Catholic Cursillos (CCCC) which helps spread the Movement across Canada and provides guidance to Movements in understanding and implementing the Foundational Charism of Cursillo. The CCCC is linked to Cursillo Movements around the world. It also helped in the formation of the OMCC, the world body of Cursillo which communicates with the Vatican.

The Cursillo Movement has spread throughout the world. The Movement is a Lay Movement which is diocesan based, under the authority of the local bishop and is faithful to the teachings and priorities of the Church.

The light of Cursillo has illuminated Christianity in all corners of the world, where it has shouted the Good News, being all things for all people, sharing freely what has been freely received.

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