By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor
As the 31 women arrived to St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, July 25, they were asked to hand in their cell phones. It was a request they readily obliged, knowing that for the next three days they would devote complete attention to having a personal encounter with Jesus that could lead to the start of a lifelong conversion of their hearts.
The women, hailing from various towns around the Diocese, including Trenton, Mount Holly, Freehold, Red Bank, Keyport and Toms River, along with a few from Washington, N.J., and Pennsylvania, came together for an annual weekend retreat as members of the diocesan Hispanic Cursillo movement.
Together, the women, along with their spiritual director, Father Neiser Cardenas, about 11 leaders, known as Cursillistas, and with the support of other priests, spent their July 25-28 weekend in intense formation during which they prayed, meditated, listened to talks, received spiritual direction, attended Mass and, if they felt the need, received the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The goal of the Cursillo was to enable the Cursillistas to take their retreat lessons and go on to evangelize on the fourth day – with the fourth day being the rest of their lives.
“The Cursillo serves as a means of leadership and faith formation,” said Father Cardenas, parochial vicar of the Cathedral. “We serve every parish that opens its doors for us to recruit from among the communities’ new people for the experience.”
Cursillo, Father Cardenas explained, is an apostolic movement of the Catholic Church that was founded in Majorca, Spain, by a group of laymen in 1944 while they were refining a technique to train pilgrimage Christian leaders. From that effort, the Cursillo became a worldwide ministry to find, train, sustain and unify leadership for Christ and his Church.
Describing the Cursillo experience’s three stages – Pre-Cursillo, Cursillo and Post-Cursillo – Father Cardenas said the Pre-Cursillo stage involves encouraging Sacraments in one’s desire to be in full communion with the Church.
“We look to work closely with the catechesis programs of the different Hispanic communities to support the process,” Father Cardenas said, then noted that there is also a Cursillo available for the English-speaking faithful as well.
The Cursillo stage consists of a three-day encounter that begins on a Thursday evening and concludes on a Sunday afternoon. It involves candidates having a personal encounter with Christ and an intense teaching program based on piety, study and action, Father Cardenas said.
During the Post-Cursillo, “Day 4 begins and the new Cursillistas return to their communities to serve and be part of different ministries” including as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, readers and sacristans. During the Post-Cursillo stage, the Cursillistas have opportunities to continue to grow in their faith through attending the Ultreya, which are regularly scheduled follow-up meetings that can involve planning evangelization activities, Father Cardenas said.
Reflecting on Cursillo’s history in the Diocese, Father Cardenas said that four years ago, the Cursillistas began a rebuilding process because the movement had been inactive and “in danger of disappearing.”
“We started to renew the movement and give life back to the ministry,” said Father Cardenas, adding that the efforts resulted in developing a document containing a mission and vision statements and a pastoral plan. In addition, he also noted that the Hispanic Cursillo members have recently joined with the English-speaking Cursillo members with the hope that “we will have a more effective ministry.” The two Cursillo communities convened for its first bilingual Mass in June in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold. A second bilingual Mass is planned for Oct. 26 at noon in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral with Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., as principal celebrant.
“We continue to work to make the Cursillo a source of formation and leadership for the Hispanic communities in the Diocese of Trenton,” Father Cardenas said.