A. Its Beginning in Spain in this Century and its Background.
The Cursillo Movement was born in Spain in the 1940’s. To understand the movement in-depth, one must understand Spanish history and the Spanish mentality, which have shaped Spanish culture. Spain, in the area of religion, made significant contributions to the Roman Catholic Church throughout the ages. A few names which come to mind are St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and St. Peter Claver. These individuals were giants who influenced and helped to shape the Spain that we know.
Now in our time from Spain comes the Cursillo Movement. The Cursillo Movement seems peculiarly suited to the post-Vatican Church, which is looking to increase participation of the layperson in the life and work of the Church. It is no accident that movements like the Cursillo, bent on religious reform began in Spain. This thesis will examine the history of the Cursillo. Its central theme will be its theology. As Rohloff points out:
Perhaps more than any other European nation, Spain has a sense of salvation history. She has usually seen her destiny as a call from God to embody the Gospel and to bring it to the whole world. All her institutions share in this destiny. Every aspect of life is permeated with the divine. Like the culture of other countries, Spanish culture, in which the Cursillo Movement was born, has many facets, some of which are not entirely favorable to the Cursillo. First of all, the movement came into being in the 1940’s when the Catholic Church was recovering, in part, the strong and favored position it enjoyed prior to the Civil War. At the same time, however, the central government controlled the Church. This meant that the Cursillo Movement necessarily had to avoid political and social problems and concentrate on interpersonal relationships, the Christianization of the environment and evangelization. Thus the Cursillo Movement was born into a war-torn country. The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) left its scars: The social context of a war-torn nation was one of poverty and austerity. Illiteracy was rampant because the Church and the state disagreed on where the responsibility for education should lie. Both morale and morality were at a low ebb. Humanism, clericalism, and its antithesis – anticlericalism – were much in evidence. Add to these the Spanish tendencies to provincialism and individualism and the problems multiply. But the question still persists: Why Spain? One has to wonder why this particular movement originated in Spain, rather than, for example, in France or Italy? After all the Church has existed in these two latter countries about as long as it has lasted in Spain, and in a somewhat similar fashion. The five following points explain, at least in part, why the Cursillo began in Spain.
(a) What immediately comes to mind is the Spanish temperament. It is a religiously conservative temperament that is closely allied to the Catholic Church. Spanish Catholicism produced such outstanding religious figures as Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, mystics like teresa of Avila, and John of the Cross. It also produced great missionaries, such as Peter Claver and Junipero Serra, among others.
(b) Politically, the Catholic Church in Spain was a very powerful institution and because of historical reasons, was closely allied to the government. The Cursillo Movement, which was under stric clerical control, was able to develop and survive in this type of atmosphere.
(c) The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) engendered apathy and secular humanism, and even the threat of Communism. As a reaction to these factors the Cursillo Movement , like Catholic Action shortly before it, sought to entice the Spanish to shore up the original source of faith: the Catholic Church – but to do so with a new kind of mentality and spirit.
(d) The Spanish temperament was influenced by yet two other unique factors: Jewish and Moorish cultures. Both of these cultures were theocratic, and consequently religion was closely allied to the state. Since the time of Ferdinand and Isabella, many Spanish, Jewish men and women converted to Catholicism out of expediency. At the time of the Inquisition many of them were questioned about the legitimacy of their Catholic faith. Had they converted only for political reasons, while practicing their Jewish faith secretly? In a similar way, Christian Moors, men and women, were considered disloyal to Spain when they allied themselves to non-Christian Moors. It should be stated that the Inquisition helped to unify Spain as a closed, Catholic society, while non-Catholic people were made outcasts or even expelled.
(e) When the Reformation started, Spanish society as a whole reacted with a great fear of Protestantism. It reached its peak during the reign of King Phillip II (1556-1598). Spain became a defensive bulwark against Protestantism. In the fight against this heresy, King Phillip, in 1559, forbade Spaniards to study in foreign universities. The result was that Spain was isolated from modern European thought until the 18th century. This closed-society mentality contributed much to the Spanish temperament.
B. The post-Civil War Atmosphere in Spain and the Rise of Franco
Fifty five years have elapsed since the Spanish Civil War ended in 1939. After this long period of more than five decades, we are, in 1994, far removed from that conflict. In addition, the Spanish Civil War was overshadowed, historically, by World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945). We might easily forget that the Spanish War had broad implications that extended far beyond Spain itself. As Sanchez points out: The Spanish Civil War was the dominant European event of the 1930’s prior to the crisis that led to the outbreak of World War II in 1938-39. It polarized the political consciousness of a generation, in some respects more so than did the opening round of the World War itself, for the Spanish contest was held to be a true contest of principles, an international ideological civil war to a much greater degree than anything represented by the standard clash of rival national egotism. While the war had such repercussions internationally, it also had serious repercussions in Spain itself. It was essentially a revolutionary/counter-revolutionary civil war between left and right. On the left were liberal, democratic and socialist forces (including Communists). On the right were the traditional, conservative forces supported by the Army, the bourgeoisie and the Roman Catholic Church. Catholic culture dominated Spain prior to the Civil War. This culture was really more than a religion:
It was a way of life, a framework of reality that was intimately bound up with Spain’s history..an attempt to recapture the role that Catholicism had once played in what was perceived as the Church’s historic mission to the Spanish people.
Actually, Spain had three civil wars between traditionalists and liberals in the 19th century (1821-23, 1833-40, and 1869-76), or between religious traditionalists and progressive Catholics who usually were anticlerical. Here we should define terms. First, the traditionalists were Catholic men and women who were ideologically committed to establishing a clerically dominated state. They solidly supported the clergy. They saw religion as the universal force that held Spain together. Among them were the Carlists, who hoped for the return of the monarchy.
Then there were the liberals, or anticlericalists, persons who were opposed to a clerically dominated state. They wanted a secularist state, where there would be no religious principles in public life. There were three major attacks against the Spanish clergy. They owned about one-fifth of the national territory, and the politicians looked upon these lands as a possible solution to the country’s economic problems. Confiscation began on a small scale in the 18th century; the major attack came between 1836 and 1876, when clerical institutions lost most of their land. The effect upon the Church was profound. The clergy lost their rent lands; as recompense the government made them salaried civil servants. Their salary did not bring sufficient income to meet their needs. As a result, they turned to the middle class for help. This in turn meant that they compromised their principles. Now, they were endorsing economic liberalism, although traditionally they were against materialistic secularism – which they mistakenly identified with the former. In 1832 and 1834, there were outbursts of anticlerical violence in which priests were killed and churches burned. But the clergy themselves were partially to blame, because some of them engaged in armed warfare in these conflicts.
After the loss of their position in public life as just described, the clergy became defensive, because it seemed that the problems of Spain found their solution at the expense of the clergy. Their defensiveness took the form of an elaboration of the part that the clergy played in the past history of Spain and an effort to revive their past glories. However, the clergy had greater problems to face. The found themselves ever more on the defensive as the secular working-class movements of socialism and anarchism.grew. The clergy were not prepared to react to them. They were in effect not able to face the demands of modern life.
For centuries the clergy were the dispensers of charity and public welfare. This, too, was lost. Also lost was the respect of the urban working classes of men and women, as the clergy became identified with the upper/middle class people. Thus the clergy and the Roman Catholic Church were viewed as bourgeois, rightist and unprogressive, while the forces on the left were considered as liberal, progressive and democratic. In this atmosphere, to be a Catholic and to be in favor of liberal democracy appeared as an impossible combination, if not indeed a contradiction.
As time went on, there were assassinations, violence and martial law. Finally, the constitutional government was overthrown by the army in 1923. General Miguel Primo de Rivera became Spain’s military dictator. Throughout Rivera’s dictatorship, the clergy continued their defensiveness, which they used to condemn the modern world. Few of them understood the problems. Their main thrust was supporting the Catholic culture with pious religiosity. In this, they were not unlike the Catholic Church elsewhere, which tended to condemn the material aspects of modern life.
By the 1930’s the anticlericals wanted to destroy the Catholic culture and replace it with a secular society. One public leader, Manuel Azana, a typical anticlerical and president of the Spanish Republic, said in 1931, that “.forbidding the clergy from teaching the nation’s youth was a matter of public mental health.”
The modern anticlerical fury began in 1936. No other anticlerical persecution in Christian history was so severe. The numbers killed are as follows: 4,184 diocesan priests and seminarians; 2,365 religious clergymen (i.e., those belonging to religious orders); and 283 nuns. The total was 6,832. The Republicans killed 72,500 persons. Of this number, nearly 10% were clergy and religious, and the rest were lay persons. The lay persons who were killed belonged to religious associations and attended Church regularly, or were relatives and friends of clerics. In addition to the killing, some 10,000 churches were burned or assaulted, and nuns’ tombs were opened and their petrified mummies were displayed and subjected to ridicule. Most of the killings occurred in the first six months of the uprising. The ruling government armed the labor unions and members of left-wing political organizations just as soon as the war started. The government lost control as arms were passed out to anyone who could then act with impunity. There are numerous accounts by eyewitnesses, both men and women, of how the killings took place. It was rumored, and incorrectly, that the clergy kept supplies of armaments in their churches, and this infuriated the people and contributed to the killings.
Why this intense anticlericalism? Why all the killings? Why the desecration of 10,000 churches? First of all, it must be remembered that anticlericalism had been a Spanish phenomenon that was deeply rooted in its cultural history.
Secondly, the violent anticlericalism of the Civil War was caused by clericalism, or by perceptions of it by various groups of people. Thus, the urban working class looked upon the clergy as their enemies. At the beginning of the Civil War when the government made no effort to restrain the fury, these classes found their opportunity to vent their anticlericalism in violent ways.
Thirdly, it would seem that clericalism itself had failed after centuries of domination, and now that the government stood passively by, some of the people took this opportunity to vent their rage. Besides, it should be noted that some of the assassins and arsonists were criminals set free by the government. They were known as the “uncontrollables.” Other anticlericalists were idealists, i.e., persons who suffered for years in poverty and misery at the hands of persons in the possessing classes. And some clergymen counseled people to accept their status humbly. These have-nots, both men and women, held them responsible in part for their condition.
Finally, many of the clericals supported the Nationalists. This made them enemies of the Republic, members of a military conspiracy, although some clergymen were neutral and some supported the existing government. There were, however, some priests who broadcasted anti-republican propaganda over the radio from Nationalist Territory. This caused persons who were extremist to view “every priest as an ally of the rebels.”
A thorough study of the part played by the clergy indicates that some priests fired from their churches in some isolated cases, largely in self-defense. But the anticlericalists exaggerated such cases, and used the newspapers to print things that were for the most part untrue. In the 1936 elections, it became clear that persons of the working-class political parties wanted not only to destroy the influence of the clergy, but also to replace Christianity with belief in the socialist revolution. They saw the clerics as associated with the men and women of capitalism their real enemy. In addition, there was the Anarchist-Syndicalist trade union that was also bent on the destruction of Christianity. The Church as a social institution was to be destroyed. It must be said that the Socialist party was the chief proponent of the social revolution which led to the Civil War. Their hatred for the Church grew largely out of their criticism of the clergy, whom they saw as catering to the wealthy classes of men and women, and they spread exaggerations about the so-called clerical wealth.
The clergy themselves, with limited and narrow seminary training, emphasized a puritanical view of life and the acceptance of one’s station in life, and they preached a great amount of superstition.”
However, once the war started, the clandestine church was set up so that it operated on three different levels: in the prisons and hospitals, in the embassies of foreign governments, and among the general populace. In many cases, there were priests who distinguished themselves in administering the sacraments.
“And there were those Catholics who supported the Republic. Clergy and laity both, most of them felt that other issues of the war were more important than the religious issue; or rather they conceived of the religious issue in broader terms than the clerical-anticlerical struggle. Many of them felt that the social issues of the war and the working-class struggles, placed in the context of the teachings of modern social Catholicism, transcended the attacks upon the clergy and clerical Catholics; and, further, that the authoritarian and fascist tendencies of the Nationalist forces were more threatening to the future of the Church than what they considered justified anarchist violence or momentary Communist atheism.”
One of the important issues in Spain during the Civil War was the Basque problem. The three Basque provinces of Guipuzcoa, Vizcaya and Alava had long labored for independence. They supported the Republican government because it provided the legislative machinery for regional autonomy. When their territory was conquered by Franco’s nationalists, fourteen priests along with many laymen were executed. It was a major scandal, because the bishops strongly supported the Nationalists.
In the late summer of 1937, the Spanish bishops published a letter about the war. It was addressed to their fellow bishops throughout the world. It was designed to tell the truth about the war; that is, to dispel the false information about the war that had spread throughout the world. Cardinal Pacelli was the first to suggest such a letter. General Franco himself warmly supported it, for he believed it would support the unconditional military victory that he contemplated.
The collected letter of over 9,000 words spoke of the anticlerical fury, dispelled the false accusations against the clergy, supported the Nationalists, spoke of a Communist conspiracy to seize power, told of the assassinations and discussed many other issues bearing on the complexity of the whole situations, especially the fact that the war was being fought for religious reasons.
The letter was not intended for domestic consumption. It is questionable about how much good it accomplished abroad, because by the time it was issued, foreign opinion had hardened. All in all, the bishops hoped to influence foreign opinioin. However, what really happened was that they compromised themselves, for they supported a government which committed wartime reprisals. They did not protest the atrocities of the Nationalists, but remained silent.
One phenomenon associated with the Spanish Civil War was the debate concerning whether or not the conflict was in keeping with the teaching of Catholic theologians on a just war. This debate went on not only in Spain, but in many other parts of the Catholic world. Many of the nuances of this debate are beyond the purposes of this thesis. In addition, the religious climate left much to be desired; it was marked by apathy and secular humanism.
Thus, the first half of the twentieth century for Spain was characterized by violence and instability. Communism, atheism, and anticlericalism found their way into the lives of many Spaniards. The dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (1923-1930) occurred early in the century. It was followed by the unsuccessful Second Republic, which was marked by severe persecution of the Church. As a reaction to it, the Falangist party was formed, whose members were really Spanish Fascists. In 1936, the Populist Front took over the government. However, by July of that year, the revolt by the generals began, and the Civil War that ensued lasted until March 29, 1939. Francisco Franco, a Fascist general in charge of the Spanish army in Morocco, was the leader of the revolting generals. He became dictator of Spain in 1939 and remained in that position until his death in 1975. He brought peace and order to a country wearied by war. It was during his regime that the Cursillo was born partly in reaction to the leftist tendencies that had made their inroads into Spain.
C. Spain’s Relationship With the Vatican.
Pope Pius XI and his advisors were quite surprised at the fury of the anticlerical persecution. However, they had been watching the situation in Spain develop since 1931 and did expect conflict, but not with the anticlerical fury as described earlier in this work.
The Holy See did make numerous protests, both public and private, but never broke off relations with Madrid. The Vatican’s actions were quite prudent and cautious. This was true even in the appointment of ambassadors and archbishops of important Spanish Sees.
The Vatican finally recognized the Nationalist regime in May, 1939. Prior to that time it did not sever relations with Madrid, thereby keeping its options open so that it would have representation with the victor, and thereby protect the clergy and the rights of the Church.
Franco was a practicing Roman Catholic and he was, apparently, highly influenced on religious policy by his wife and her personal chaplain, Marquina Barrio. But he had no intention of letting the bishops or the Vatican influence his politico-religious policy.
He did not hesitate to oppose the Church whenever he saw fit to do so. In 1937, he did allow the papal encyclical, “Divini Redemptoris,” on Communism, to be published even though one paragraph (out of 84) was devoted to Spain. It stated that the Communist fury had destroyed churches and killed clergy, “above all those who have been devoting their lives to the working classes and the poor,” and that laymen “of all conditions and classes have been slain for no other reason than the fact that they are good Christians, or at least opposed to atheistic Communism.”
However, he would not allow a second papal letter, “Mit Brennender Sroge”, issued Pius XI in the same year, to be published in any of Spain’s newspapers. There was no direct reference to Spain in this encyclical, as there was in “Divini Redemptoris”, yet it is not difficult to see this letter as a warning to Franco and the Nationalist forces concerning the pagan doctrines of their allies. Cardinal Pacelli told Spain’s Cardinal Goma that the Falange had “Hitler-like tendencies.” Franco feared that the letter would hurt his efforts to unify his military forces. Finally, at the express wish of the Holy See, the letter was published in some diocesan newspapers and in the Spanish Jesuit monthly Razon y Fe.
The Vatican worked to negotiate a peace settlement between Franco and the Basque provinces in the north of Spain. This occurred in the spring of 1937, when the Nationalists were set to invade Vizcaya. This effort failed and soon afterwards, the Pope worked to repatriate some 20,000 Basque children who had been sent abroad for their safety. He also tried to save imprisoned Basque clergy, most of whom were released.
Franco exerted pressure on the Holy See to remove the ecclesiastical faculties (the right to administer the sacraments), of some clergymen. This was refused by the Papacy. In July of 1937, the Pope appointed Ildebrando Antoniuti as his delegate to Spain and Charge D’Affaires to the Burgos government. (Burgos was then the capital of Nationalist Spain.) During Antoniuti’s tenure, the issue of the selection of bishops came up. Before 1931, this matter was governed by the 1851 concordat, which gave the Spanish crown the right to nominate candidates for this office. The Republican government repudiated that concordat in 1931 and permitted the Vatican to name bishops freely.
After 1936, the Holy See informed the Burgos government, as a matter of courtesy, of their appointment of bishops. Franco and his aides suggested a concordat similar to the Lateran Concordat with Italy. By this agreement, the Holy See would ask the Italian government if it had any objection to a nominee. The Vatican, however made no reply to Franco’s suggestion, and continued to select the bishops.
In 1937, Franco began to abolish some of the anticlerical legislation. This occurred over a two-year period. In particular, the Jesuits were given legal existence. This was followed by the renewal of full diplomatic relations with the Holy See. In May 1938, the Vatican sent Gaetano Cicognani as its nuncio to Burgos, and Burgos sent Jose Yangrias as its ambassador to the Holy See.
Now, the Nationalists achieved a great diplomatic victory. It received recognition by a major power in addition to its allies (Germany, Italy and its neighbor Portugal). Shortly after the establishment of diplomatic relations, the matter of the naming of bishops came up once more. The Burgos government argued that it was the moral heir of the monarchy and thus should exercise the rights expressed in the 1851 concordat. The Holy See would not accept this position and preliminary negotiations for a new accord were begun, and these culminated in a modus vivendi in 1940 and a concordat in 1953.”
On his part, Franco eventually abolished the anticlerical laws, restored the clergy’s salaries, and gave the clergy control of education and censorship. Under Franco, all political parties were suppressed, with the exception of the Falangist Party, which he headed. Although it is true that he was the “liberator” of Spain, he turned the country into a police state. The people respected and feared him but all did not love him.
On August 27, 1953, Franco signed a new concordat with the Holy See, replacing the Concordat of 1851. It rectified certain alleged injustices that had taken place after Franco became dictator. But most importantly, it gave Franco the right to appoint bishops, even though ecclesiastics could participate in the process. Thus the Spain-Vatican post-Civil War relationship was finally in place, and was to remain so till Franco’s death in 1975 – if not beyond.
D. The Nature of the Spanish Mentality
The Concordat with Roma had a profound effect upon the Cursillo Movement. It left the movement in a position of being unable to confront the government and unable to take strong positions on political and social issues. Another edit of Franco’s government that would have future influence on the Cursillistas (members of the Cursillo) occurred in August 1940, when compulsory two-year military service became law.
This partially explains the concept of militant Catholicism so prevalent in the Catholic Action writings of the forties and in the early Cursillo literature..The early Cursillo developed an environmental and evangelical thrust because other avenues were closed to it. Hence it did not direct itself to institutions or systems as such. Its emphasis on militant and orthodox Catholicism derived partially from Spain’s military conflicts and conscription as well as Franco’s view of the Church.
There were other influences on the Cursillo Movement. Since the movement originated in Spain, the many social, cultural, and economic factors that shaped the Spanish mentality shaped it. Due to its geographical position on both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea and its proximity to North Africa, Spain became the haven for various peoples. And yet, at the same time, some of its regions were isolated. This gave rise to a regionalist mentality, and as a result accounted for the many interpretations of the Cursillo in its early days.
Another factor was the lack of education in post-Civil War Spain. This meant illiteracy among the masses, and accounted for the simplicity of the Cursillo approach to doctrine. It also accounted for the ill-founded fears of bishops and priests toward this new movement.
Historians disagree concerning the relative importance of Muslim and Jewish influences on modern Spain and even whether these influences were good or bad. Louis Bertrand tends to minimize their influence..American Castro and Marcel Bataillon emphasize the importance and value of the Muslim and Jewish contributions to Spain’s configuration. The weight of evidence points to a strong Muslim and Jewish influence and that it is mostly favorable. As expected, this influence is felt more in southern Spain where concentration of Jews were more numerous and Muslim domination much longer. Much of this influence passed into the Cursillo.
These various influences are not just cultural in nature, but profoundly religious. Spanish Christianity was deeply colored by the Jewish and Muslim religions.
That Spanish history is considered divine and that Church and State are inseparable is due to Islamic and Jewish influences. The Sanctuary of Santiago de Compostela during the Middle Ages became a Christian mecca after the fashion of Islam. Later it became a source of military motivation against the Muslims. The concept of the holy war came to Christian Spain from Islam. Holy War came to be seen as a way to enter Paradise much like martyrdom had been. It is only a small step from this sentiment to the militant Catholicism that gave birth to the Cursillo.
Marcel Bataillon tells us that the converted Jews were influential in the renewal of the Church in the sixteenth century under Queen Isabella. Their amonastic approach to piety was very attractive. This type of piety found its way into the Cursillo Movement and helped to popularize the movement among the laity. In addition, it must not be forgotten that the relatively low level of education assisted the acceptance of the Cursillo among the Spanish laity because of its direct approach.
We need to understand the religious climate of post-Civil War Spain, for it was in those years that the Cursillo was born. Rohloff sums it up quite well: Catholicism in Spain after the Civil War was intellectually medieval, scholastic, somewhat superstitious and extremely intolerant of heterodoxy. This accounts for the scholastic vocabulary and thought patterns and traditional trends in most of the early Cursillo literature, but it also accounts for the severe criticism it received and for the few revolutionary insights and original concepts it brought to the Church. Except for its forward-looking ecclesiology and its radically new approach to the apostolate, the Cursillo reflected very much the accidental characteristics of its parent Spanish Church.
Did the Vatican have any official contact with the Cursillo Movement prior to Vatican Council II? It would seem not. However, it was with Vatican approval that Bishop Juan Hervas was removed from his bishopric of Mallorca and sent to Ciudad Real. This seriously hurt the Cursillo Movement. During the difficult years of the 1930’s, superstition in the area of religion led to a misguided devotion to the Mother of God. The Cursillo helped to curtail this trend, because its piety is Christocentric. It was during these same difficult years that anticlericalism appeared in a severe persecution. It is estimated that 7,937 ecclesiastics were killed during the Civil War by the anticlerical forces of the Republican government. As noted earlier in this chapter, these included 12 bishops, 5,255 priests, 2,492 monks, 249 novices, and 283 nuns. In part, this explains why the Church supported Franco.
As in other Latin countries, religious apathy was common among men in Spain. They considered religion proper for women and children, but not for themselves. This was secular humanism. And atheism at its peak. The Cursillo Movement was a reaction against such tendencies, especially among the young men who were unchristian in their style of life. However, the Cursillo in Spain and elsewhere has been affected by clericalism, as we shall see.
D.The Roots of the Cursillo in Catholic Action
Rohloff says that as far back as 1889, Pope Leo XIII set the stage for the Cursillo in his encyclical “Rerum Novarum.”
Leo urged the formation of a network of clerically led Catholic associations for social, benevolent, economic, and political purposes.
His successors, Pope Pius X and Pius XI, wrote about Catholic Action. The latter wrote on and developed the subject so much that he became known as the “Pope of Catholic Action.” Catholic Action took on different forms in different countries. In Spain, it was concerned with a revival of Christian piety and morality. Under Franco, it continued its interest in piety, but also sponsored educational and athletic activities. In 1937, Spanish Catholic Action formally endorsed Franco.
Spanish Catholic Action was divided into four sections (1) young men between the ages of 16 and 30; (2) young women of the same age; (3) men over 30; and (4) women over 30.
This division of men and women has passed over into the Cursillo, which came from the young men’s branch of Spanish Catholic Action.
This relationship of the Cursillo to Catholic Action, as we shall see, was a matter of great controversy which lasted long and tried the emotions of many. Of course, what confused many was the fact that Catholic Action was defined differently in different places. This meant that the members of a variety of groups were collaborating in the apostolate of the hierarchy. This was the thinking of Pope Pius XI. He saw the layman as the extension of the priest.
The Cursillo Movement saw the layman’s role differently. It saw the layman as receiving his mandate to be an apostle not from the bishop, but from Christ himself, through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, in union with the Mystical Body. It was this concept that eventually separated the Cursillo from Catholic Action. And, lest we forget, the term “Catholic Action” was superseded by the term “lay apostolate,” in the 1950’s, and endorsed by Vatican Council II, as is clear from the teaching of the Council in “The Constitution of the Church” (1964) and “The Decree On The Lay Apostolate.” (1965)
Spanish Catholic Action would contribute many of its characteristics to the Cursillo, among them, excessive clerical control and the view that the layman was simply an extension of the priest. These were reflections of conservative and traditional Spanish Catholicism.
F. Strategy and Method in the Cursillo Movement
The birth of the Cursillo came about as the result of the preparations for the Great Pilgrimage of 1948 to Compostela, the tomb of St. James the Greater. These preparations began in 1941, with many workshops (called “Cursillos” – short courses) to form the Catholic Action leaders. The notion of a pilgrimage to God began to be given greater theological emphasis. Personal-witness talks of the speakers’ own experiences of the Christian life were given.
These Cursillos were held in various parts of Spain, but it was at Mallorca that they would evolve into the Cursillo Movement as we know it today. This phenomenon is due to the leaders school which was developed for controlled experimentation, pastoral planning, and the deepening growth of the leaders in Christian community and to the dynamic leadership of the young Eduardo Bonnin.
The pilgrimage mystique has always played an important role in the life of the Spanish people, and it passed over into the Cursillo Movement which assimilated devotions to the Blessed Mother and to St. James the greater at the National Shrine of Spain at Compostela. Thus, many young cursillistas made pilgrimages to the Shrine of Our Lady of Luc on the Island of Mallorca in the early years of the Cursillo Movement.
However, the National Shrine of St. James of Compostela was the place of very great attraction for the Spanish people. One might say that ever since the Middle Ages it has been like Lourdes. Given the Catholic nature of Spanish nationalism and the militant crusading spirit, it is easy to see how a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Santiago de Compostela could have a certain kind of national and political importance.
Spanish Catholic Action leaders planned a pilgrimage of young people from Spain and the Latin American countries to Compostela. It was postponed many times, but finally in 1948, 70,000 young people came to the shrine. Supporters of the pilgrimage had at least three different agendas. Franco saw it as a means to achieve national unity and support for his regime; the bishops viewed it as a means to secure his Franco’s protection; and those involved in the planning hoped to bring about a spiritual renewal in all Spanish-speaking countries.
The military spirit inherent in Spanish history passed over into the Cursillo. Its early literature speaks of conquest, strategy, victory. Allegiance and obedience to the hierarchy were stressed. Good soldiers are marked by discipline and the acceptance of austerity that comes with war. The first Cursillistas were nearly all veterans of the Civil War, and they easily accepted the Cursillo’s military style. It must be said that a great contribution of the Cursillo to the Church was its emphasis on the lay apostolate as conquerors of the world for Christ and a willingness to accept whatever cost discipleship called for.
The Cursillo Movement was born on the Island of Mallorca when Cursillos were given to Pilgrim Scouts and Pilgrim Captains in preparation for the great Pilgrimage to Compostela, scheduled by Catholic Action for 1948. Soon young men who did not belong to Catholic Action began to attend these sessions. The Leaders’ School was also developed in this period.
In order to understand the Cursillo mentality, we need to identify the charism that makes the Cursillo what it is. We must define its identity. The same is true of the Church. It is always being called to be its true self. The individual Christian has the same vocation. The Cursillo Movement is a dynamic movement and continues to identified through such writers as Juan Capo, Eduardo Bonnin, and others, all identified with the Movement.
The first basic concept of Cursillos is its vivencial character for Christianity:
“Christianity is caught, not taught”; and “one must be led by the spirit as was Jesus.” Christianity cannot be reduced to a few intellectual formulae because God entered history and became one of us in the flesh. The second concept is liberation by first discovering what may be enslaving a person from a total surrender to God in Christ and living the Exodus theme of Sacred Scripture. “Each Cursillo that closes is a new life that opens. At that moment a new life begins.”
The third concept is the “Religious Experience.” Heads are filled with ideas and hearts filled with fire for living the life of grace. The fourth concept is Vertebration, which comes from the teaching of the Mystical Body. In the human body, the backbone is most important; it is composed of vertebrae that give nerve impulses to all organs of the body. In the Cursillo, the vertebrae are leaders, properly formed, living in grace, and linked together in a dynamic Christian community so that grace can flow into them and through them to the whole Mystical Body. The concept of vertebration came from a talk given by Eduardo Bonnin. It separates the Cursillo Movement from Catholic Action, as it pictures the layman as an apostle by virtue of his Christian vocation. He is to structure Christian community where he lives and works through friendship in a group action, often involving as few as two.
Pope Paul VI, in an address to the Cursillistas in Rome, on June 28, 1966, spoke of the Christian vocation – to follow the theological virtues of faith, hope and love and living out the Great Commandment in union with Christ. The Cursillo Movement speaks of this as “living a life of grace.” The Group Reunion, with its emphasis on piety, study and action, tends to keep the Cursillistas in the life of grace. The concept of Christian Community in the Cursillo vocabulary means “a group of baptized Christians living and sharing a conscious and growing life of faith, hope and love in union with the visible Church and striving to bring about the Incarnation of Christ into all sectors of society. By its very nature it must be a Christian Community in Action, a missionary church.” A final mark of the Cursillo is a triumphal concept of Christianity (but not triumphalism). It is a strong belief in the power of the Gospel and the grace of Christ to overcome evil. The following sentences are used in the Cursillo to express this concept:
(1) “I have told you all this so that you may find peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but be brave: I have conquered the world.” (Jn. 33).
The Cursillo updates this point as:
(2) “Christ and I are an overwhelming majority.”
You might say that the leaders attempted to instill a spirit of optimism in the Cursillistas. The Cursillo literature of this period speaks of joy and victory. It quotes St. Paul: Now we know that for those who love God all things work together unto good (Rom. 8:28). It was from all of the above concepts that the Cursillo mentality took form in the 1940’s and spread to many other countries. These concepts form a Christian baptismal vocation and are basic to the Cursillo method, which has four parts.
The Precursillo involves the study of the environment, the selection of candidates, and the preparation for the three-day weekend. A select number of apostles are chosen in keeping with the papal letter of Pius XII, “Quamvis Nostra,” to be like the leaven in the Gospel.
There is considerable controversy as to when the first Cursillo as we understand it today was held. Since a discussion of this debate will not serve the purpose of this work, one might safely assume that the first one took place between the years 1944 and 1946 at Mallorca. This opinion is shared by the leaders of the movement today.
The Postcursillo comprises the Group Reunion, the Ultreya, and the Leaders’ School. The Group Reunioin is composed of a few persons (as few as two and as many as ten) who meet weekly in a spirit of friendship. They discuss their piety, study and action, or to use the new terms: holiness, formation and evangelization. Their action should concern the Christianization of their environments. Ideally, the members of the Group Reunion should come from the same environments.
The second element of the Post-Cursillo is the Ultreya. It is the weekly or the bi-weekly meeting of the various Group Reunions from a specified area. There are ten Ultreyas in the Pittsburgh Diocese. Those who attend, experience a Group Reunion, hear a short witness talk from another cursillista, and a few words from the spiritual moderator. They also receive support for their efforts to Christianize their environments. The Ultreya serves as a counter culture.
The third element of Postcursillo is the leaders’ school. It meets weekly, and it seeks to form leaders by teaching the Cursillo literature, Catholic doctrine and Catholic spirituality. From the leaders’ school, members are chosen for the diocesan Secretariat, which governs the Cursillo Movement and is responsible for its day-to-day activities. Ultreyas are governed by a small core of Cursillistas, called the Ultreya Council, who are encouraged to attend the leaders’ school.
What follows is in part a summary of some of the important events and characteristics of the Spanish culture that serve to make the Cursillo what it is: a successful movement in the apostolate. The Great Pilgrimage, though it had political overtones, was successful in its spiritual goals. It was important for Cursillo, since it created the climate in which the Cursillo could grow. It also created the mystique of the pilgrimage, which is an important part of the Cursillo mentality. It was Spanish militancy that gave Cursillo its thrust as conqueror of the world for Christ. This is both a uniquely Spanish contribution and a charism that is unique to Cursillo in the post-conciliar church.
Cursillo took much of its mentality, its method and even its vocabulary directly from Spanish Catholic Action. This prevented the Cursillo from being the creation of any one person. The Cursillos of Pilgrim Scouts led to the further evolution of the Cursillos for Pilgrim Captains, which in turn became the Cursillos de Cristiandad. Each of the basic concepts of Cursillo were consciously lived by the Cursillistas before the Great Pilgrimage.
From its development, it becomes apparent that the Cursillo approaches the apostolate existentially and modern man holistically. It operates out of a model that is not only theological, but philosophical, psychological, anthropological and pedagogical.
Although Eduardo Bonnin is the single most influential person in originating the movement, nonetheless the movement began in the bosom of a broad Christian community in action.