I am “John,” and I want to tell my Cursillo story so that others can benefit or at least be a little more educated about the goings on, should they draw the short straw and get invited.
First off, all kinds of secrecy veils the happenings. Do not expect a straight answer from the person inviting you. I later learned that this person is referred to as your "sponsor." I was "sponsored" by my own sister, a woman I love and respect very much. In my adult life, I left the _______ church where I was raised and joined the ______ faith. I do not think that one group of Christians will get to heaven a millisecond before another group-I just prefer the worship services of the ______ faith, while my sister clings to the ______ faith of our upbringing. Several of her friends have been involved in Cursillo for some years now, and she's highly regarded. She loves it, and it must be said that I admire her passion.
Numerous times she'd invited me to Cursillo, but I would always claim this or that prior obligation, hoping that she'd get the hint that I really did not want to go. Her persistence, and my desire to spare any hurt feelings finally gave in, and I agreed. She told me that she would come get me and drive me down. (What?) I told her that I would prefer to drive myself down, that I am a big boy now, and that I do know where the camp is located. In hindsight, my "something's fishy" radar bleeped a little, because she was most adamant that she drive me down.
As it turned out, I had temporarily relocated to another part of the state by the time Cursillo weekend rolled around, and her coming to get me was simply not an option, so the "driving me to Cursillo" issue resolved itself on its own.
In our conversations prior to Cursillo, I'd query her as to what would be on the agenda. What happens, what's expected of me, what can I expect from it...but I could not get a straight answer! One reply was "It's a surprise and you will love it!" Another was "A relaxing weekend getaway with other Christians". I finally allowed that this could not be so terrible; one of the many, but more significant, times that I was wrong.
At this point, I want to beg the indulgence of the reader and plead with you to understand that I am not a jerk! Far from it- my friends and fellow church members know me to be reliable, outgoing, and dependable, but I can also be assertive and straightforward at times. For example, if I am able to assist or otherwise come to the aid of another, I tend to be the first person there, with my sleeves rolled up and ready to work. When I am not able, I will not listen to any grief or implied guilt. I am single and live alone, and readily admit that I have slightly more than your average man's need for privacy and personal space. I do not tamper with anything that does not belong to me, and I expect that same courtesy in return. I have a feeling that many readers identify with this trait! That said, let's get on with the Cursillo adventure.
Cursillo activites began about 6pm that fateful Thursday, so I left work at noon for the four hour road trip. I had not eaten lunch, because I was hurrying to get caught up with work demands. My plan was to grab a bite at a drive through, mid afternoon, but not wanting to be late, I elected to skip lunch because I thought dinner would be provided at camp. I arrived, met my sister, and a man that I did not know rushed toward me and asked for my keys. "Why?" "So I can park your car". "I can park my car, just tell me where", "No, I will". I found this a little odd, but before I could even assess why I would allow a stranger to drive off in my car, yet another man grabbed my bag and began leading me to my room. Odd, again. A woman I do not know asked about my watch, and I replied "It's 6:15". She laughed, and said that she needed my watch. I smiled broadly and told her that it was a gift from a very dear friend, and that I would like to keep it. I removed it from my wrist and put it in my pocket. Something told me that they just might ask for my cell phone, so as soon as I was shown my room, I asked where the restroom was. I excused myself, ostensibly to answer the call of nature, but really to make sure the phone was off and hidden in my pocket. And yes, no sooner than I returned to what appeared to be my personal valet staff, they asked for my cell phone. I lied and told them that I had left it in the car, and would someone be so kind as to ensure that it was locked.
I soon learned that there was in fact NO evening meal planned, so I asked for my car keys so that I could run into town and grab a bite, as I had not eaten all day. I was told that food would be brought to me, and was herded along with the rest of the group for an awkward "meet and greet" of sorts, with an estimated 30 or so equally bewildered looking faces. (I later learned that I was just about the only one with a car, that the rest of the "pilgrims" had been driven to the camp by their "sponsors".)
Over the next few hours, we were herded from one room to the next. Holy communion. A slide show. A film presentation. I was getting a migraine from it all, and was famished. I sneaked into the restroom to glance at my watch (high contraband at Cursillo), and it was near 9pm by now. We were told that we were to observe silence...until further notice. We were led to our rooms, and there on my bed was a small bag of chips, an apple, a banana, and a bottled water. I struck out in search of a staff member to explain that I do not want chips, apples, or bananas, and that what I really wanted was to use my car to ride into town and get a real dinner. "No you may not" was the message, but not in so many words. I was also gently reminded of the "silence" rule.
I sat on my bed eating my chips, tacitly taking inventory of my situation. I was definitely out of my comfort zone: They tried-and failed- to get my watch and cell phone. I do not have access to my car, I do not know where the keys are, or who has them, for that matter, and I do not even know where it is parked. And shut up, while you are at it? All of this, I was later told, would help me focus on Christ and forget the stresses of everyday life. I desperately wanted to tell anyone who would listen that I have challenging work that I love passionately, and a wonderful home life. I am NOT stressed by everyday living, but I am highly stressed by condescending people who claim special insight to what's best for me, especially when said people abscond with my personal property.
Sleep was fitful. Here I was, forced into a cabin with championship snorers. I have an eerie feeling that I cannot just get up and leave, and I have a dark sense of foreboding, a premonition if you will, that the weekend isn't going to get better. At daybreak, I was rudely awakened by the obnoxious clanging of a bell. Yes, some yahoo was running up and down the hall, ringing that bell for all it was worth. I really did want to shove that bell into the anal cavity of that person, and since confessing Christ many years ago, complete with immersion baptism, felt that I could pull off even this and not lose my salvation.
After a quick shower, we were herded to Holy Communion, after which we were told we could once again speak. I elected to "not" take advantage of this particular privilege, as I had nothing positive to say. Then breakfast, which was good, and I did eat ravenously. I poured more coffee and walked toward my cabin to enjoy a few minutes of alone time, but was not allowed. They herded us to what was called the "Royal Room", for a full morning of cute little group activities, We made a poster together. Ahhh, to make posters and color them in and hang them on the wall! I thought this was a little like kindergarten. Boring little feel-good homilies and life lessons, round table discussions. I feigned participation, but took every opportunity to look out the window in search of my car.
At lunch, some yahoo insisted on carrying my tray and hovering over me like a flying saucer. I would later learn that this staff member was learning how to be a "servant". (Ever thought about getting a job at a restaurant? I want to carry my own tray!) After lunch, I walked outside to be alone for a few precious moments, and yes, to look for my car, but I was quickly apprehended and told to return to the group- that there were group activities that I would miss out on! The "activity", as it turned out, was to notice our placemats. Each one had a slogan or a bible verse, and each in turn had to stand and read what theirs said. Mine was, "Cursillo is a treat!" (What am I, someone's pet dog?)
Back to the "royal room", and a few more group activities. One "leader" came in and taught us a few Spanish words, among them "Palanca". Another leader came in with this huge bag, and passed out packets with our names on them. One was given to me, and it was full of little gifts such as bookmarks and candies, along with a huge stack of letters. I read the letters, and heartfelt words gushed from each one. Along about the 4th or 5th letter, I was puzzled: Who ARE these people? WHY are they writing me these letters, telling me that I am in their thoughts and they are praying for me? What am I, in rehab? I do not know you, you do not know me, and these letters, are, well...totally meaningless!
It gets better: Someone walked in and started playing a lively song, something that would have been more suitable for Sesame Street, and we were taught the "Rooster" song, complete with all the motions. Now, I know without a doubt that I would have been all over this, had I been 4 years old...but at age ___, with failing vision and prostate trouble...well, this isn't exactly in my top ten of favorite things to do on a day off. It must have been rather obvious that my "Rooster song" rendition wasn't enthusiastic enough, because someone rushed in and placed a giant sombrero on my head, and not at my invitation. I removed the sombrero, placed it on the table, and walked out of the room. Permission or not, I had had enough...and well, enough is enough.
I walked to my cabin, and gathered my belongings. Almost at once, a man came into the room and asked if there was anything he could do for me. "Yes", I replied, "As a matter of fact there IS something you can do, and that would be to provide me with my car keys at once." "I'll see what I can do" was his terse reply. After about 15 minutes, another man walked in and told me that I was free to leave, that this was "not a prison", so I asked him for my keys. Another long wait, and a third man walked in, and told me that what I need was "private counseling and one on one prayer". I told him that what I really needed was my car keys, please provide them to me at once. A 4th and even a 5th person came in...and I noticed that almost 2 full hours had come and gone since my initial request for my keys! I took my cell phone out of my pocket, and told this person in a rather assertive tone that if my keys are not handed to me this minute, that I would use this phone to call the sheriff and tell him I was being held against my will. I also allowed that this was indeed my 5th request.
I was escorted to my car, and without a word, threw my bag in and drove off, never looking back.
In the years since, my sister and I have not spoken about this incident nor do I wish to. Our once-close relationship is slightly strained, and I am puzzled as to why she would think that this sort of thing would appeal to me. We used to gab on the phone for hours, but not anymore. She has since moved to another state and is busy with her own life, and I am trying to carve out a life in today's challenging economic climate. God has been good, and He continues to bless me. But I must strongly disagree with the entire Cursillo process. I think it's a bizarre cult within the Christian community! I believe that I am a filthy, unclean soul. But God in His mercy provided me with a pass, and that was Christ's work on the cross! I can find no passage in His holy word that mandates me to don a sombrero and dance to the rooster song.
In closing, I'd like to say that after reading this and you find that this is your cup of tea, then knock yourself out! Go to as many Cursillos as you choose to! One of my many blessings is to live in a nation where we are free to worship-or not worship- in ANY manner we choose. Being coerced, having personal property taken from you, and not allowed to leave...well, that's another story. It was months before I got over the feeling of being jailed!
I'm John, and that's my story.
Dear Pastor Janssen,
Please allow me to tell you how grateful I am to have found your book about Cursillo.
Recently, several of us resigned from our Church because of a controversy over Tres Dias. We had studied information gleaned from the web: Tres Dias Essentials, their statement of beliefs, and a 170+ page manual for Tres Dias leaders. This was prompted by our concern that Tres Dias was taking priority over the local Church in the lives of our people who had "lived their weekend" and also the feeling by some that they were being harassed to attend. When the pastor asked that recruitment not occur in the Church building or at Church events, there was outrage in these people. The Church became instantly divided. They began to campaign openly against the pastor. Ultimately, he decided that he could not remain in the Church if he could not support Tres Dias -- and he had already decided that in good conscience he could not support it (after his own observations and searching the web for five months). As you noted, there is not much objective material available.
Since our pastor and a number of others resigned, some of us have struggled with the questions of whether we did the right thing. As we studied Tres Dias' documents, we could point to some things that were openly objectionable. However, we felt that there was a subtle, underlying "something" that did not ring true to us. We found it was not so much what they said as what they did NOT say that concerned us. People in our Church had said things, though, that disturbed us. For example, one of our women was among those who brought Tres Dias to our state told us, "All my life I was told how BAD I was. I never felt WORTHY of God's grace. But when I went to Tres Dias, it was the best experience of my life. I came home knowing that I was WORTHY of God's love and grace." We objected, saying that none of us are worthy -- that is why we need grace. But she passed our comments off with a rather quiet but seemingly superior air.
Just 2 weeks ago, I came across your website, read the news articles, and saw your book. At my suggestion, our former pastor purchased the book as did my husband and I. We are astounded that all of our concerns and observations are corroborated in your book. Thank you. I believe finding your book was Providential and it has certainly helped us have peace of mind.
Name withheld by request.
Dear Pastor Janssen:
found your web-site when I was exploring topics relative to spiritual retreats
and/or cults. As I was exploring, I was thinking about the experience I had at
a TEC retreat in high school decades ago. Looking back, I realize that the
initial high turned into a depressive episode in my life for many of the
reasons you stated.
In my particular situation, my home life was complicated by mental illness, trauma and neglect. As an adult, I now know that these are issues best addressed by trained mental health professionals in a context of safety and trust as opposed to random high school classmates. When does "sharing" come up against "family secrets" and boundaries?
As I am raising my children, I am striving to create an emotionally open and affirming household so there won't be this overwhelming need for "catharsis" at age 18.
Given our "tell all" and electronic culture we now have, I would actually prefer a silent retreat for all of us.
Thank you for your affirming articles.
Name withheld by request
I just wanted to say thanks for the Questioning Cursillo website. I don't really have a story to share about my own experiences. Eighteen years ago, I ended up deciding not to go on a Via de Cristo weekend because my boyfriend (now husband) had gone the weekend before and eventually told me about his concerns. Things didn't feel right -- the secrecy, the manipulation, the deception, the idea that you're being initiated into a group you didn't realize you're joining, the "in crowd" mentality that results -- and I knew if I went, it'd be for the wrong reasons. Since then, I've occasionally looked online to see if anyone else had our concerns, and I've found very little. I'm so glad your website is there for people like me.
Name withheld by request