A send-off was held Nov. 18 in Visitation Church, Brick, in anticipation of the diocesan women’s Cursillo team’s retreat weekend to be held Dec. 1-4 in San Alfonso Retreat House, West End. Pictured with the team are Father Edward Blanchett, chaplain to the Trenton Cursillo, shown right, and Sister of St. Joseph of Peace Clara Schroeder. Photo courtesy of Mike Ivanko
A send-off was held Nov. 18 in Visitation Church, Brick, in anticipation of the diocesan women’s Cursillo team’s retreat weekend to be held Dec. 1-4 in San Alfonso Retreat House, West End. Pictured with the team are Father Edward Blanchett, chaplain to the Trenton Cursillo, shown right, and Sister of St. Joseph of Peace Clara Schroeder. Photo courtesy of Mike Ivanko

By Lois Rogers | Correspondent

Veronica Jeffrey has always felt a strong pull to her Catholic faith.

Growing up in Trinidad and Tabago, her family was actively and consistently religious.

“My father [died] when I was quite young and my mother paved the road -- reading the Bible, making sure we said the Rosary, taking us to Mass, teaching us to be kind to other people.”

This was the philosophy on which she based her own life, one in which Jeffrey, who immigrated to the United States 42 years ago, brought with her to Lakewood and one she sought to instill in her own children. “The focus was always on doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

It was the this sense of community when she began to notice about a year ago among St. Mary of the Lake parishioners who belonged to Cursillo – a worldwide movement in which members seek to share the Good News of salvation at every opportunity in the home, in parish, in the workplace and the community.

Jeffrey, affectionately known as “Ronnie” around the parish where she has been a member for 26 years, began attending the Ultreya, the bi-monthly Cursillo gatherings, when possible and she enjoyed being with other Cursillo participants and hearing them reflect on their ongoing lives of discipleship.

While Jeffrey said she knew very little about the Cursillo movement when she first started attending the Ultreya meetings, she found that by listening to others she learned “things about piety and what you can do in your own life to go out there and spread the Word the best way you can to other people.”

Jeffrey noted how she appreciated the encouragement she received from fellow members, including Mary Weis, who will be the next lay director, to consider becoming involved in Cursillo. Jeffrey said she prayed and said, “Well Lord, if you want me to do it, you will allow me to do it.”

And when she heard that there was a diocesan-wide Cursillo retreat or “short course” for women Dec. 1-4 at San Alfonso Retreat House, Long Branch, Jeffrey took it as a sign.

“I had never gone to a retreat since I came [to the United States]. I went on one retreat for young people in Trinidad, but it was more like an outing. This was different. I was open to hearing from the speakers, I was interested. I was asking God to help me understand what I’m doing as an adult … and I got the sense that he was telling me this is what I am going to do.”

Days of Community

Jeffrey was among a group of 11 women from around the Diocese who embarked on the Cursillo short course weekend which is described on the diocesan website as a worldwide movement in which members seek to Christianize their environment.

The Cursillo Movement began in Spain in the mid-1940s and arrived in the United States in Texas in 1957. For the first few years, in the US it was only given in Spanish and when it first arrived in the Trenton Diocese in 1971 that was the case. By 1972, the first English Cursillo weekend was held on Pentecost weekend in 1972.

Over the decades, the movement has had a steady presence and a strong membership in parishes throughout the Diocese, said Rick Klarmann, the present lay director who is serving a two-year term. Serving with Klarmann on the leadership team are Father Edward H. Blanchett, chaplain and pastor of Visitation Parish, Brick, and Sister of St. Joseph of Peace Clara Schroeder.

Father Blanchett said the three-day retreat offers the candidates a deep experience of Christ as they share their own journeys of faith.

Beginning on a Thursday afternoon and ending on Sunday, those attending live and work together, listen to and discuss talks given by clergy and lay people on the vision of Christian life shared in Cursillo.

The atmosphere is joyful and punctuated with prayer. Celebration of the Eucharist, songs, recreation, laughter, moments of silence and reflection are mainstays of the weekend, said Father Blanchett, who said the pace ensures that there is nothing dull about the weekend.

The Trenton Cursillo offers two sets of weekends each year. One set is held in the spring and the other in the fall, with separate weekends for men and women. They are open to persons who are married or single, separated, divorced or widowed as well as clergy or religious.

The recent weekend, Father Blanchett said, embodied the sense of a joyous workshop, a sharing experience in Christian community in encounter with Christ.

“It was a very good weekend,” he said, one that enfolded as a learning experience that afforded the participants the chance to explore questions about themselves and the faith. It reflected emphasis of the movement, focused on evangelization and captured in the motto: “make a friend, be a friend, bring a friend to Christ.”

There is an ongoing follow-up program for those who have experienced a Cursillo weekend which includes the Ultreya gatherings, regular meetings of the School of Leaders as well as friendship groups where three to five people get together on an even deeper level.

An active website which keeps Cursillistas apprised of gatherings helps foster the sense of community, said Father Blanchett, who became involved with Cursillo in 1998 as part of his discernment journey to the priesthood. He said the ongoing connection with the movement “helps keep me grounded in what the faith means to the faithful.”

“When I go to the weekends and the different functions I hear so much … I get a much more complete picture of what people are going through as they live out their faith in today’s world. Obviously, with the changing and constantly shifting values … the larger issues of society are so massive,” he said, that individuals struggle to deal with them.

Cursillo shines a light on the fact that “we are not alone. We have communion with the Catholic Church and everything centers on the Eucharist and witnessing to faith.”

Klarmann, a member of St. John the Baptist Parish, Allentown, echoed Father Blanchett saying that focus on how to evangelize in a world that is growing less interested in shared core values of Christianity is vital.

The sense of community that fuels the movement holds the key, he said.

Cursillo, he said, provides tools to enable the faithful to share experiences and it helps put faith in action.

A Spirit-Filled Movement

Mary Weis, a member of St. William the Abbot Parish, Howell, stresses that the most important thing about Cursillo is the ongoing mission. Involved in Cursillo since 1998, she focuses on “spreading the joy of Cursillo. I want as many people to have the same experience of joy and love that I experienced.”

The most important thing, she said, is that it doesn’t end with the weekend. “The fellowship keeps you going, living your faith, boosting your spirit.”

Jeffrey said there were many aspects of her Cursillo experience that appealed to her and boosted her spirit.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but I was pleasantly happy with the different speakers encouraging us,” to deepen our relationships with Christ, she said. “It was really very informative. I learned quite a lot about my own Catholic faith and the Scriptures and life in general, and I came away feeling very optimistic about what I had learned.”

Where prior to the retreat she wanted to evangelize but “didn’t have a formula,” she came away with a realization that she could reach out to people in faith without “bombarding them.”

And it didn’t take long for Jeffrey to put her desire to do so into practice. She said she was recently speaking with a Catholic woman about Cursillo when the woman confided she had not been to confession in more than 25 years.

“I said, ‘You know what? God loves you and wants you to be happy and faithful. You can go to confession knowing that no matter how bad it is, God forgives you.’”

Jeffrey smiled when she said the woman did got to church. “Later she called me and said, ‘Ronnie, I went to confession.”

Jeffrey said her connection to Cursillo enabled her to “help this person feel comfortable. I was able to encourage her with love. She was able to go to confession and feel good about it.”

And love, Jeffrey said, is the “big word” Cursillo conveys.

“Love of one another. I was able to convince her that God was opening his arms. I’m glad I went to the retreat and I hope to continue.”

“Like they say in Cursillo, ‘make a big noise!’”

 

English speaking and Spanish speaking Cursillos function separately but with a common spirit. For more information, go to www.trentoncursillo.org/