The 2011 men's Cursillo group at St. Rita Retreat Center, Gold Hill.
The 2011 men's Cursillo group at St. Rita Retreat Center, Gold Hill.
A group of lay Catholics in western Oregon is working to help Christianity infuse secular life. The Cursillo movement proposes no new theology or spirituality, but only a method for developing, living and sharing faith.

"You either take your faith seriously or you are a bench warmer," says Johann Sebastian, a Cursillo organizer from St. Peter Parish in Newberg.

Sebastian, 66, went on his first Cursillo retreat two years ago, after being invited by a friend.
"It's finding out what our role as laity is in the church and what the Lord expects of us," Sebastian says. "Wherever God places us, we need to be evangelizing."

Cursillo promotes evangelization by example. Sebastian tried to give a kind word to people he meets, even cashiers. He makes it clear he is Catholic.

"Every moment of our day needs to be lived out in love," he says.   

After his retreat, Sebastian began working with a group that brings meals to homebound elders.
In Cursillo, lay Catholics and clergy find, form and sustain lay leadership. The hope is that laity, by living a full Christian life of love and joy, will stir up the hearts of those who see them.

This spiritual formation comes in "little courses" — in Spanish, cursillo. The retreats begin on Thursday evenings and end the following Sunday night. Attendees live and work together, listening to talks. They share the Eucharist and pray together.

Talks explore topics like habitual grace, the role of the laity, piety, sacraments, evangelization and obstacles to a life of grace. Discussion follows each talk.

The Cursillo movement was founded by a Spaniard who fought in World War II. Eduardo Aguiló called himself an "apprentice in Christianity" up until his death in 2008 at age 90. As a young man and then a soldier, he grew concerned that the Catholic message was being passed along in soulless form. He responded to a call from Pope Pius XII, who asked for new ways to express the ancient message of Christ in the modern world. Aguiló led the first Cursillo in 1944, focusing on ways lay Catholics could bring Christ to others.

Amy Haptonstall of Our Lady of the Mountain Parish in Ashland originally went on a Cursillo to find people with similar moral and religious views. She has continued because of the joy of friendships and watching people transform.

"Cradle Catholics are sometimes the ones I see inspired the most," she says. "Their spiritual life has become nothing but a Sunday morning routine and at times with little meaning. Cursillo can bring the understanding, support, guidance, and purpose within the church they are lacking."

Haptonstall, a 37-year-old home healthcare provider, was not involved in parish ministry before her Cursillo, but since has helped lead the youth group, brought Communion to the homebound and helped educate people joining the church. She has felt refreshed.

"You could say it helps strengthen the whole church by encouraging and giving people that 'nudge' to become the church in their parish and abroad," Haptonstall explains.  

The camaraderie in Cursillo is strong, says Phil Colozzi, a 72-year-old member of St. John Church in Port Orford. "Whatever level of education or financial earnings, we were one," Colozzi says. "It's all through the power of prayer."

Colozzi, a retired business consultant, reports that most people who make their first Cursillo welcome God's forgiveness during the weekend. It's powerful, he says, and it leads many into a personal relationship with Jesus.  

The aim is to transfer Christ's values to others in family, school, work and neighborhood.

Father Karl Schray, a North Bend pastor who is a Cursillo spiritual director, made his first Cursillo in 1974 as a chaplain with prison inmates.

The heartfelt talks were "riveting" and made his faith "fresh and vital," he recalls. He has made 25 of the retreats and always finds men ready to share deeply.

"The ultimate goal of the weekend experience is to continue to grow in our spiritual walk," Father Schray says. "Cursillo — and Marriage Encounter before it — have made the Catholic faith a joy-filled lifestyle for me and my priesthood."

Men and women attend separate Cursillos. Priest spiritual directors and lay leaders give talks. Each day there is a meditation and Mass. Joyful fellowship tends to erupt.

After the retreat, those who attended are invited to ongoing follow-up sessions, men and women together. They discuss the times they have felt close to Jesus, how they have been inspired to be more Christian and what they have done lately to help others.

Pope Benedict has encouraged lay spiritual movements. He calls them schools for helping Catholics learn to live according to the Spirit and for sharing the Christian message with the world. At the 2006 Pentecost Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, the pope called on members of Cursillo and other groups to work together and with the church to show modern men and women the beauty of a life lived for others.  

Cursillos are set for October at St. Rita Retreat in Gold Hill, north of Medford. The retreats are for Catholics 18 and older who can receive the sacraments. Cursillo weekends cost $150. Applications — available at — need to be received 30 days ahead and require help from a mentor and consent by a pastor.