5. THE BIRTH OF THE CURSILLO
Here is part of the report that an attendant wrote and published the month after in “Proa”. The events commenced on January 7th with a retreat directed by the Rev. Fr. Juan Capó. They continued on the 8th, 9th and 10th, during which time the Cursillo lessons were given. The Rev. Fr. Guillermo Payeras added some explanations on the doctrine of grace with great success (...) We were honoured with the visits of the Econome of Randa, our Diocesan Spiritual Advisor - who gave one of the lessons, and Juan Mir (...) The events ended on Monday night, with plenty of speeches. We all had something to say. As a final act, Eduardo read out a letter from the Bishop to the Cursillistas, which was the ultimate fulfilment of our sentiments.
Those attending this Cursillo were as follows: Spiritual Director: Fr. Guillermo Payeras; Director of the Retreat on the 7th: Fr. Juan Capó; Rector: Eduardo Bonnín; Teachers: Bartolomé Riutort, Andrés Rullán and Guillermo Estarellas; Assistant: Guillermo Font. Attending Cursillistas: Antonio Quetglas, Juan Munar, Miguel Villalonga, Bartolomé Oliver, Bartolomé Barceló, Bartolomé Gelabert, Rafael Ferrá, Magín Mora, Juan Mora, Juan Puigcerver, José Thomás, Pedro Prohens, Miguel Galmés, Miguel Miralles, Juan Bauzà, Lorenzo Soler, Rafael Soler, Lorenzo Bergas, Miguel Roselló, Juan Ferriol and Antonio Ribas.
This is the first Cursillo in Christianity proper, and its numbering begins at that point. It is Cursillo number one. Even a memorial plaque bearing the date was placed at St Honorato’s Monastery, where it took place. However, absolute unanimity is not achieved. Fr Cesáreo Gil gathers the opinions of Fr Gabriel Seguí, who sees in the Cursillo for Advanced Pilgrims of April 1945 the first complete Cursillo, and those of other learned persons who consider that the first complete Cursillo was that held in September 1946 in San Salvador. Recently, F. Forteza published a book in which he maintains that the first Cursillo was held between the 20th and 23rd August 1944 in Cala Figuera de Santanyí.
If we ask ourselves about the preparation for this Cursillo, the reply is simple. It was part of the syllabus plan that the Council had developed. Firstly the 10th Diocesan Assembly was held in November, now the time has come to carry out the programmed Cursillos. We shall try to reconstruct the events with the information we have available.
Juan Capó explains it thus: In the weekly Diocesan Council meeting to which I referred to before and in which it was decided to hold the January Cursillo, I was surprised (I had only joined the Diocese a few months before) when Fr. Sebastián, who presided over it, appointed me as the person responsible for the spiritual side and five of the lessons. Because of my duties in the seminary, of which I was Spiritual Director, I asked for help. They appointed Fr. Guillermo Payeras, the then parish curate of the district of Hostalets and who directed a truly interesting youth centre. He would provide both material and assistance at the same time.
Guillermo Payeras has not left a written personal account, but according to Carlos María San Martín, he was called up by Fr. Sebastián on the 12th December and asked to attend the Cursillo as Spiritual Director, for which he had to prepare five lessons on grace and a meditation for each day. The initial retreat would be directed by J. Capó, who should be contacted as well as the team of laymen who were giving other lessons, above all Bonnín, who would be the Rector.
Indeed, in the first Cursillo Guillermo Payeras assumed the spiritual direction, while Juan Capó directed the initial retreat. This is according to “Proa” magazine, in which we find the report and other information on the Cursillo.
The five lessons on grace were prepared between them in Guillermo Payera’s flat. Payeras provides the following books from his library: Live your Life, by Aramí; Grace and Glory, by Terrien; The Young Person and Christ, by Tihamer Toth. Capó brings to the meeting De gratia Redemptoris, by Lennerz, and the volume corresponding to Tanquerey’s synopsis. Between them they prepare the scripts for the Talks. They are two young priests. One has just received his Theology Doctorate in Rome; the other is one of the diocese’s most outstanding spiritual advisors for young people. It can be assumed that one would have provided the theological rigour and precision for the work, whilst the other would have assisted in the practical application, being more acquainted with the psychology of young people.
As for the laymen’s Talks, there was no outline plan proper. The heading and idea were there, but then personal creativity played a big part. The idea was mainly to contribute one’s personal experience on the issue being discussed. Eduardo Bonnín was perhaps the only one to have planned and systematised all his contributions. It is through them that we have received more details of the previous Cursillos.
B. Innovation with regards to previous Cursillos.
The question of discerning whether this Cursillo is a novelty or not is highly complicated. F. Forteza considers that the key moment of the birth of the Cursillo Movement is the period following Holy Week of 1943, when Bonnín takes in the experiences of the Cursillos for Pilgrims and integrates them with his own everyday experiences and anxieties. Others would date this birth in April ’45 or September ’46. As we said previously, there is no absolute unanimity. But most of the authors, and most of the witnesses to the event, tend to consider this Cursillo celebrated between the 7th and 10th of January 1949 as the first, and the one which provides the definitive innovation.
A simple verification is to examine the impact which the Cursillos made through “Proa” magazine. We certainly have reports on previous Cursillos but they are not given a special prominence. On the other hand the issues following this Cursillo pay far more attention and are practically taken over by the issue of the Cursillos and that of the Marian Year being held in Majorca, and which would be brought to a close on the 29th May.
The front cover headline for the April issue reads as follows: Revolution in the apostolate. The future is ours. It talks about the enthusiasm of the spiritual advisors, of the young people ... and the impossibility to cope with so many enrolment applications. I transcribe literally the editorial:
We are aware that Cursillos are also held in other Dioceses of Spain; but ours are different. Here are their characteristics:
1) Their number. We are no longer talking about an annual Cursillo for Diocesan leaders. We have three and four a month. All the young people of Majorca with leadership abilities will go to Cursillos.
2) Their perfect organisation. It is a consequence of the experience acquired.
3) They are Cursillos of formation and conquest, of formation of the Movement’s young people. But also and very specially —and this is their fundamental feature— they are a means of conquering young people who have not had previous contact with the Movement, even those young people who come from environments hostile towards it.
4) They put the apostolate within everyone’s reach. In the past, the number of new members had reached disheartening levels. Alleging a lack of ability, our young people abstained generally from joining the apostolate of personal conquest. Now everybody is suitable, and everybody dares join; in fact everyone practices it with enthusiasm when they see the ease with which they fulfil their duty (...)
5) They introduce specialisation in the most delicate apostolate of conquest, since the proper apostolic work is carried out by priests and experienced leaders.
6) There is also a greater efficiency, because one achieves a more intimate contact with the young person subject of growth, far from the disruptions brought on by the circumstances of his everyday environment.
7) The preparation —prayers and sacrifices— for the Cursillo’s spiritual success catches the interest, due to the extent of the undertaking, of those elements who are furthest apart.
In short, our Cursillos by making all our young people participate in the apostolic work and leaving the work that is strictly of training and conquest in the hands of able people, they increase our possibilities to an extraordinary extent. That is why we can affirm without hesitation that they are the only efficient means of getting the Movement out of its stagnation.
The comments in the issue of “Proa” magazine for the month of May grow in crescendo. The main headline says: Miracles still exist. The second one reads: there is a similarity between what occurs in the Cursillos and the early days of Christianity. A river of young strength is breaking out on Majorca. In the editorial, signed by J. Capó, this significant paragraph: The similarity between what happens in a Cursillo and some of the phenomena clearly observed in the early days of the Church are impressive. This is no exaggeration. We only point at an unquestionable parallelism. And grace is the only possible explanation of the marvellous results that are achieved in our Cursillos. The grace that transforms, changes, wins.
If “Proa” magazine is like the echo of what happens among the Majorcan youth of Catholic Action in whose bosom the Cursillos are born, it is evident that the beginning of an impressive and profound phenomenon came about in this Cursillo of April ’49. It must be something very catching, very powerful and very new for Capó –regardless of whether he is right in his assertions– to compare it with the phenomena of the beginnings of the Church. It is a very daring assertion, more so in that period, and it does not come from an uninformed person, but from a Doctor in Theology.
But the editorial of the April issue of which we have transcribed some paragraphs, is even more daring. It speaks about “revolution” and that the future is in its hands. He maintains that Cursillos held in other Dioceses are different to those of Majorca and he lists their characteristics, of which I believe two stand out due to both the novelty that they represent and the importance that they entail: they are particularly and specially Cursillos of conquest; and they are Cursillos for all the Majorcan youth who satisfy the minimum conditions for being a leader. It is no longer a question of holding a couple of Cursillos for leaders each year, mainly of formation. It is a question of conquering the youth of Majorca through Cursillos to which almost everybody can attend and of an apostolic activity in which everybody takes part and not just the team of the Cursillo, since it is necessary to work in the search for candidates and pray for the fruits of Cursillos, both these things being the work of everybody.
Juan Capó indicates in general terms three ways of reaching this Cursillo’s innovation:
– There had been a change in the atmosphere and the pastoral orientation. Monsignor Hervàs had taken over the diocese on the death of Archbishop Miralles. This orientation was strongly highlighted in the young people by the transition from the style of the two previous diocesan Spiritual Advisors (Fr José Dameto and Fr José Rossell) and that of the new Spiritual Advisor Fr Sebastián Gayà.
– The convergence into one single leading team of men having diverse spiritual features, with totally different formation. The traditional and the new, an improvising and revolutionary character, a fearful and almost reticent good sense (...) From that group of names, I think we must highlight those of Eduardo, G Estarellas, J Mir, B Riutort, A Rullán (...).
– Apostolic enthusiasms with a distinctive and defining accent of the best of the Pilgrimage to Santiago with all that was contributed towards its preparation, accomplishment and later use.
There is a radical innovation, according to Capó: That which, whilst maintaining intact the words of the previous elements, changed its meaning in a decisive manner. The Cursillos acquire a new accent and dynamism in the light of the “mystical Talks”. These centre the evangelic proclamation in the doctrine of grace within life itself, helping to experience the transforming force of this singular reality.
According to J Capó the contents of the “mystical Talks” were new. These had been brought together by him and G. Payeras as previously discussed. In the “lay Talks” we have also seen that the outline plan was not precisely inflexible. It is Bonnín who had most prepared and systematized his presentations and it was mainly he that compiled most of the material. But when that first Cursillo was prepared, the “Teachers” were advised of the headings and ideas to be developed, and each one was asked to proceed in his own style and above all from his own experience. That was the key.
That is why, when it comes to making a statement about the innovation of this Cursillo, I believe that it was not a new Cursillo as far as the method, structure or overall contents is concerned —though the contents of the “mystical Talks” were new—. The principal innovation lies within its purpose. The issue is no longer that of preparing a Pilgrimage to Santiago; it is one of continuing with the apostolic spirit lived within the pilgrimage and to launch oneself to the conquest of the young people of Majorca. It is a question of formation but above all of the conquest of young people for Christ. I think it is the most objective conclusion in view of the events, and in which I fully agree with Fr Cesáreo Gil.
Here lies the birth of the Cursillo and the Cursillo in Christianity Movement. Throughout the evolution of Cursillo we have been following above, it is difficult to talk of a single founder. This Movement is not born out of the practical realisation of a project developed by the mind of a specific person in the light of faith with supernatural vision and by divine inspiration, which is how other works of the Church were born. It is rather life itself that gushes forth in spurts, overflowing with pure vitality and taking over channels as it grows and evolves. It is not an existing structure that grows as it fills with life. It is life itself that gushes forth by the power of the Spirit and bursts in by means of instruments that are docile to its action. And it is produced in a very ecclesiastic and communitarian manner, reflecting the integral reality of the Church. We have been discussing the contribution by the Bishop who, as diocesan Pastor, is the principle of communion and who encourages, accompanies and gives impulse to this river of life. We have highlighted the contribution by the diocesan Spiritual Advisor who gives dynamism to, co-ordinates and prepares the pilgrimage in its doctrinal aspects and who paves the way for other young priests and gives them assistance. We have briefly described the leading role of the diocesan Chairman, an ardent and singular apostle, never tiring in his visits and attendance to all events, also surrounded by magnificent leaders. That is why there has never been any mention of a single founder and the term “initiators” is preferred to “founders” leaving the Church itself an even greater if possible leading role.
Fr. C. Gil aptly summarises this sensitive issue with the following words: There was not a founder. There were founders. A team of laymen and priests approved by their Bishop. There was creativity coming from the Church and within the Church. The following stood out amongst the laymen: Eduardo Bonnín, Bartolomé Riutort and Guillermo Estarellas. Among the priests were: Sebastián Gayà, Guillermo Payeras and Juan Capó. The Bishop was Dr Juan Hervàs Benet.
We could certainly find more names, and it is difficult to ascertain the influence that each one had in the process. It is very difficult in an undertaking of human collaboration because there are elements that cannot be measured, but it is even more difficult in an undertaking by the Spirit within the Church. Even so I would concentrate on two names, those which I consider the most significant in the Movement’s genesis: Fr Sebastián Gayà and Eduardo Bonnín.
We have asserted that the Cursillo and the Movement which arises is the result of the work, restlessness and apostolic effort of a group of laymen and priests who made up the Diocesan Council for the young people of Catholic Action in Majorca. At the forefront of this Council and therefore at the forefront of this restlessness and this mission were the Spiritual Advisor and the Chairman. The principal load and ultimate responsibility of that “adventure” rested on them. The Bishop trusted them fully. Fr Sebastián was Monsignor Hervàs’s most trusted person and also amongst other things, the Bishopric’s Secretary Chancellor. As Spiritual Advisor, he exerted much influence over the Diocesan Council. In the summer of 1950 he is appointed Spiritual Advisor of the Diocesan Committee and Episcopal Vice-delegate in Catholic Action and replaced as young people’s Spiritual Advisor by Fr Juan Capó. The latter as we have already seen acted in the first Cursillo as the retreat’s Spiritual Director and would later play a key role both in the practical accomplishment and the doctrinal dimension of the Cursillo Movement, eventually becoming an outstanding leader whose virtues and weaknesses will be influential in Cursillo's later development.
One must also acknowledge that Eduardo played a particularly important role, not only as diocesan Chairman, but also because of his singularity and the specific influence he had. As a layman he was ahead of his time and he also played in every sense, an important part in the events leading to this first Cursillo.
Monsignor Hervas' contribution is in a different level. He encouraged the initiatives, trusted his co-workers and held a direct contact with the leaders. Every Friday at 7 a.m. during two years, the group of youth leaders of C. A. would hear the Prelate’s mass, warming their spirit and forming their intelligence by listening to explanations on formation matters from the Bishop himself . In short, it is about the exuberance of the life of the Church that is channelled through a group of laymen who believe and live their apostolic vocation, of some priests dedicated to the Kingdom’s mission, and a Bishop who encourages and gives dynamism to that vitality.
D. The “innovation” of the Cursillos.
What is the Cursillo Movement?
The Cursillo Movement is the result of a new mentality, that is: of “a group of ideas, vital activities and “pastoral opinions” which arose in Majorca in the decade of the 1940’s.
That new mentality evolves in a given atmosphere, that of a local fertile Church which through its young members prepares a pilgrimage thoroughly and enthusiastically throughout a decade and it will give rise to a method which will make possible a Movement.
Regarding the religious climate of Spain in the 1940’s which we have described in the first chapter through its popular and personal religious forms, I think one can declare that the Cursillos are a profound and transforming innovation which we shall now try to analyse:
I think that the best way of analysing the innovation or innovations which this Movement provides will be to reproduce the fundamental lines of the ideological backbone which we include integrally as preceding ideological stages of the Cursillo. They basically form the quintessence of this new mentality. We shall list them one by one, pointing out what they represent as innovation compared to the ruling criteria at the time.
A) A triumphant concept of Christianity, which is the only true and faithful one, as an integral solution to all human problems, in contrast to the bourgeois, static, conformist and non-operational concept that is Christian in nothing else but the name it usurps.
The total religious restoration that was attempted in Spain after the civil war has not materialised. Many persons live distant from the Church and amongst those “inside” there is a move from triumph to apathy. The Christian experience in general is gradually being reduced to a practice of simply complying with rules to ensure salvation. It is the “good ones” becoming conformists and bourgeois.
Cursillo innovation comes from within the triumphant concept of Christianity. That is a hopeful, optimistic, youthful concept of the future. In contrast to the environment of the official Catholic Spain, in which everything is assured and typecast, Cursillo turns out to be like a breath of fresh air, like returning to the source knowing that there lies the solution to the fundamental problems of man. That there lies the real authentic Christianity, which is always hopeful and non-conformist, like the Gospel.
This triumphant, enthusiastic component is typical of the first Cursillo and of every Cursillo. It is typical of the Movement that was generated there. It is the most opposite thing possible to hypocrisy and excessive attention to social forms that was common at the time.
B) A dynamic vision of militant Catholicism, seeing the apostolate not as an overabundance but as a vital demand that far from being made in a bureaucratic organisation, constitutes the decided vanguard of the Kingdom of God, the living and operating ferment of the Church.
To me this point seems revolutionary for its time. The common apostolate conception in the environment consisted in considering it as a kind of overabundance or over-contribution. Overabundance means to abound more than is necessary. Over-contribution means doing more of something than what is one’s duty. The majority of the Christian people lived a passive Catholicism. The militants lived it more actively, seconding the hierarchy’s instructions and executing its orders, but apostolic activity was seen as excessive contribution and overabundance.
Cursillo unleashed a dynamism which showed itself in initiative and creativity, not just latching on to instructions from the hierarchy. What was new was the vision that life itself demands the apostolate. That is to say, the apostolate is something demanded from the life of a Christian person, a member of the Church, a baptised person. I do not think I exaggerate if I mention here a precedent of what Vatican II would declare about the participation of laymen in the mission of the Church because the laymen’s apostolate, which gushes forth from the very essence of their Christian vocation, can never be lacking in the Church.
C) A principle of sincere dissatisfaction, straight and eager, the only possible starting point for inexhaustible effective action of numerous and improved accomplishments.
E) A profound conviction that certain methods of obtaining the essential objective of all apostolic action are insufficient or lack adaptation. A conviction that far from becoming sterile in lament or resigning itself to the fatality of events, forged ahead with growing interest the vitalisation of everything that can be used and the search for new, fertile horizons.
In these two points, which I have grouped because of their affinity, there is strictly speaking no novelty in the line of the ideas. What they state is a non-conformism regarding methods and the dissatisfaction with the present reality, leading them to search, probe, experiment, perfect ... until in the end they succeed.
D) A profound and exact knowledge of today’s man, of his problems and anguish; but also an experimental and living knowledge, taken not from statistics formulae or “simple, practical handbooks” but learnt from life itself, arising from an intimate coexistence with the mass that the evangelic ferment must vivify.
During the 1940’s the popular religious forms, very much for the general population, predominated in Spain. Let us remember the popular missions, consecrations to the hearts of Jesus and Mary, the procession of our Lady of Fatima, ... these forms which respond to a totalitarian religiousness, have to give way to more personal religious forms .
By contrast, personalization of religious experience was innovative. It did not consist of mass events which tend to be superficial and impersonal. Rather, it was a search for knowledge of people, of their problems, of their vital circumstances. It was a search for knowledge drawn from life itself, from encounter with people and not bookish knowledge (taken from statistics or cheap handbooks). In short, two elements of novelty: a personalised apostolate, and an apostolate which is supported on knowledge from life itself.
F) A strong conviction that it was really possible for those living apart from their religion to feel the strong shaking of grace and that, however far they were from Christ, they were able to give themselves up to Him as long as the matters regarding Christ and his Church were shown just as they are. Dispensing if necessary with any personal favouritisms or criteria regardless of how rooted they were, and which in the end were nothing but incidental aspects.
Two novelties to be highlighted: in the first instance, the conviction that religion is not something “for the regulars”. Those distant from their faith could have a profound, sincere and enduring religious experience. If their encounter with Jesus was encouraged they would change and open themselves up to him. If God and the Church are presented to them just as they are, that is real and authentic, they become attractive by necessity. A joyful, paschal presentation which motivates, not from a fear of eternal condemnation and its consequent punishments, but from God’s infinite love, the love of a Father who offers a new life. Presenting the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, of which we are all active members.
The second novelty is in the form of presenting the message. Preaching in general presented an abstract theology separated from reality and exhibiting a morality with excessive subtlety. The idea was to present the dogma in a more kerigmatic way, closer to the listener; a direct paschal and joyful proclamation. It was necessary to find a more genuine, biblical, profound and at the same time simpler presentation, free from scholastic robes or adornments in style. To search for a moral which is more of principles and less of cases. In short and grouped together, to present religion as something positive which brings a meaning to life, which gives fullness, happiness and joy, and not as a heavy bundle that one must carry around to be saved.
G) The firm hope that on carrying out this experience the same would happen as in the times of Christ: the Samaritan women and the Zacchaeus’ of this world would become the Lord’s most dynamic apostles.
It is a consequence of the encounter with Christ. It flows from point B, that is that every Christian is called to the apostolate. The person who encounters Christ and is converted will discover that by logic it is demanded from his life that he shares that treasure which he has discovered by telling everyone else. He will discover that dimension which sets off from his Baptism, of his being part of the Church, and he will become a dynamic apostle.
The apostolate is not a task for the elite, but one that every Christian is called to do. And every Christian that is conscious of that call at some point in his life —Samaritan women and Zaccheus’— will usually give themselves up with generosity and enthusiasm, usually more than the Christian who has “practised all his life”.
H) A tense effort to find a specific technique that, copied from apostolic procedures, would have in mind each individual’s personal problems and specific demands so as to root them out with a solution given by Christ and his grace, accepted as the force and weight which will influence his whole life.
It is linked with point D. Starting off from the specific person and his or her problems and circumstances, one must find a technique which with its elements of psychology, sociology, ... levels the path of religious personal experience, of the encounter with Christ which will encourage a new life and guide his future. The solution at root level is Jesus Christ. The “technique” can help by helping one to open up from inside, to overcome prejudices. All those elements are valid as long as one does not fall into the manipulation of the individual. We may also have here a touch of innovative thinking by bearing in mind the specific environments of origin, the specific problems of each individual... and the elements that the said sciences could provide.
I) A conviction that the solution was simple and that being simple, was universal; that is why an effective Catholicism of faith had to be lived in the Cursillo, in one same solution and one same atmosphere, even though embracing different horizons, different classes and diverse cultures.
This is a typical characteristic of the Cursillos in Christianity and the one which best defines the new mentality. The solution which they discover to the problems of people is simple, easy, profound, and straight to the point. And precisely because of that its validity is universal, that is it is suitable for all types of people without distinction of social class, intellectual capacity, age (if mature enough), origins. An effective Catholicism of faith is that universality without barriers. The profound problems of people tend to be common, and treated in the right atmosphere they will find the same solution.
In persons having the said differences, to which we can add those of temperament and life of faith (because one can find in a Cursillo both an agnostic and a practising Christian of daily mass) there appears a profound and intense experience of concord and communion. Getting to know oneself more deeply and the encounter with Christ, feeling that one is forming Church with his brothers produces a unity. It creates powerful ties which endure and permit coexistence, collaboration and mutual love amongst a great variety of people who are brought together by experiencing what is fundamental in life and who mutually enrich themselves from life itself. It is the closest thing to community or family experience.