I think it was her sweet, soothing voice that won me over, her kindness and warmth that made me say yes to her invitation. I liked her. With all the jerks and assholes crowding this planet, I appreciated her being nice and gentle to me. So I trusted her. We talked about guys, a topic that she was very intrigued to get to know from me and I was open to share my feelings about it, shared a few little secrets with her. She knew I no longer have a mom so she was sort of advising me, sort of sharing her observation, I felt like I was special because she showed some concern. I wanted to trust her more. And though I was reluctant, I said yes to join Cursillo.
What is Cursillo? It was my first time to hear about it, only from her. At first she was very thrifty in saying something about Cursillo, for she just gave me a clue by saying that it would be a wonderful experience, that I would learn more about it once I am there but later on, perhaps pitying my ignorance on the matter, she briefly explained that Cursillo is a Spanish word for “short course”. If I will define it in my own terms, it’s a part-retreat, part-seminar religious activity of the Roman Catholic. It is held for three days in an isolated venue.
My friend offered to fetch me from my home even if it would take her a million miles away to get to where I live, which would be her first time. I said okay. Though I was worried she might get lost.
On my first night in Cursillo, it turned out my friend and I arrived late because the speaker I heard that night was the last speaker, a speaker that spoke of things that made me think that I was in a wrong place, made me feel emotionally sick right then and there. There were 26 all-female participants (mostly young girls, in their early 20s and below). I was the 26th female attendee, the last one to arrive.
Note: My father confessed that he attended Cursillo during the ’90s and he was happy to know that I was participating. My father shared that there were crying moments but he didn’t elaborate and similar to what my friend had said, he said Cursillo would be a nice experience for me. He also said he shared a room with three other guys. It was airconditioned. And that was all I know.
After listening to the last speaker (an old lady), telling us about what would happen in the next three days (the three-day session will teach us how to pray, will teach us about the importance of confession, attending Mass every Sunday without fail etc.) and telling us to “Love God,” saying it like it was an order, like I was listening to a dictator and we were all her slaves, we were treated after to a very late dinner at around 10:30PM. Food was already served and all we needed to do was just sit and eat. It was a cold dinner. The viand was chicken adobo, my favorite viand, but the chicken adobo I ate there tasted something else. It wasn’t delicious. Chatting was prohibited during that late-night dinner and there was a third old lady reading verses from the Bible aloud while we were eating. I whispered to the girl beside me why was the old lady reading the Bible while we were having our meal, it was so distracting. And why were most of the “facilitators” there mostly wearing baro’t saya like I was taken back during Maria Clara’s time or the 19th century. One of the facilitators approached me and handed me an interview sheet. Again, I felt like walking out, raring to go back home. I asked the girl where I could find my friend who invited me. I said I would no longer fill up the questionnaire because I want to leave. I remember the way the girl looked at me, yes, not an old woman but a young lady. She seemed like she understood what I was going through.
Then I saw our bedroom. As I was to discover, all 26 of us girls would be sleeping in one room. Not four girls per bedroom like what I imagined it would be but 26 girls in one room. It wasn’t airconditioned. There were, however, two or three ceiling fans to fight off the heat and the congestion. Our beds were double deck and all beds did not have a mattress on it. Mine did not even have a pillow and a blanket. It only had a native mat on it and I had no clue how many people have used it, if it was clean. It was a hard bed, uncomfortable. It hurts if I lay straight on my back so I had to sleep sideways. I was sick that night, in the middle of having coughs and cold, and I thought being in Cursillo would help me get better. As I was to discover, being there made me feel that I would get a terminal disease if I stayed there longer.
When my friend met me and I was like a child complaining about the “indignities” I saw and felt during dinner and during my visit to our room, and the discomfort and disappointment I felt about the preachings of the speaker that night (giving me already a feel of what would happen in the next three days), I asked for her permission to allow me to leave that night. She tried to pacify me, tried to convince me to stay, tried to explain better about this thing called Cursillo and all I remember that she said was that it’s about experiencing the suffering of Jesus Christ to be able to understand him, to deepen my faith in Him, to be close to Him, that even rich people have attended Cursillo and liked it, something like that, all I remember saying to her was that each day is already filled with sufferings so why does it have to exist here also? Life’s hard already. And the rich, they’re probably sick and tired of their leisurely life and wanted to try something new. And I kept repeating, complaining that my bed did not even have a pillow.
An old woman who just like my friend was one of the officials approached us and asked “Anong ginagawa nito dito?” Really, she was referring to me like as if I was an object, not a person. She didn’t even mention my name. My friend told her that I wanted out. The old woman asked why, my friend said to me, “Tell her.” I got tongue-tied. I felt I only owe my explanation to my friend.
Eventually that old woman left. Then came another old woman. She sat in front of me and my friend and tried to convince me to stay but I didn’t like her intro in speaking to me. Beginning it with a question, “Weren’t you baptized when you were born? Blah, blah, blah” and before she could finish her sentence I cut her abruptly then looked at my friend, I said, “I don’t want this kind of dialogue. I am very argumentative when it comes to this.” My friend told me to calm down. The old lady got the hint and left us alone. Anyway, my friend begged me to stay until the following morning because she was tired after fetching me. She couldn’t let me go home that late (it was around 11:30PM) and it would be dangerous for me to go home alone. I agreed to stay until the following morning. Of course, I said sorry to her. She said it was okay. That it was alright. Sometimes our plans do not go the way we planned it, she said something to that effect.
In our room, my friend lent to me her pillow and her blanket so I could cover my mat. Chatting was also prohibited in our room so when a different old lady came to the room, she was shouting who opened the door to our bedroom, which made me feel like I was a prisoner of Hitler’s concentration camp. Then she saw us. She was telling us in her authoritative voice to sleep once and for all. (In Cursillo, there is a strict schedule to follow. Participants should conform to the rules all the time.) She didn’t recognize my friend for she was telling my friend to go back to her bed. When this different old lady finally recognized her and learned why my friend was there sitting beside me, she said, “Wasn’t she the one that you fetched all the way from Montalban?”
Then she asked why do I want to leave. She said she had invited somebody from a different religion (Iglesia ni Cristo) and liked Cursillo and even converted to being a Catholic. So why on earth do I want to leave? I didn’t answer her. I left the following morning, Friday, at 4:00AM. My friend accompanied me to the jeepney terminal. My father was surprised to see me at home. I was so angry and disappointed telling him what I experienced.
A few days later, I noticed a big change. My friend was no longer warm to me like she was before. When I greeted her, I remember her eyes, it was cold and dead. Like I was a nobody. Whenever I see her, she would ignore me, obviously had marked me as X among her “liked” people. Bothered, I asked her if she was mad at me. She said no. Then continued giving me a cold shoulder after that. It made me feel bad but since this story I am telling happened a long time ago—though not really long ago—I’ve now reached that stage of acceptance.
When we were young, my father would force me and my siblings to pray the rosary with him. And I hated praying the rosary because it would always occur on the hour that my favorite TV show would start. And I would complain. And he would reprimand me or give me a whip if I oppose him, particularly when praying the rosary. So I developed resentment towards my father growing up. I developed dislike on anything “religious”. Knowing now, after more or less than 20 years later, that he attended Cursillo during the 90s—which the time that I remember our father started becoming religious and demanding from us, his children, to pray the rosary—I now understood why he was that way, like a dictator. I made a conclusion that religious practices, like Cursillo, can be very bad if you take it literally. Fortunately, my father has mellowed in his old years and just let us be when it comes to our faith. He has become open-minded. He would still remind us to pray, not necessarily the rosary, but to pray to God whenever we need help using our own words that come from our heart.
God knows I tried in my own initiative to follow the Roman Catholic practices like confession, praying the rosary, pilgrimage, visiting the church, novena to ask for a miracle, reading the Bible in order to feel what it means to be a member of the Roman Catholic but none of them stuck with me, or I just did them once. They just didn’t make sense to me. Up to this time, I always try to challenge my beliefs and the last was attending Cursillo. Still didn’t make sense. I just feel they were just created by men so that people would have norms and standards to follow and since they were created by men based on what they believed to be true back in the old days, or based on what worked for them in the past, I guess that also gives me a right, as a human thinking-breathing-in-and-out being, to create my own ritual in expressing my faith as long as I’m not hurting anybody. Cursillo, as I discovered, is not what I need. To others it may be effective, maybe it has changed their lives but not to me. The first thing I felt was revulsion.
I am a non-practicing Catholic but I have no plans of ever changing my religion. For my religion taught me about God, about a savior named Jesus Christ who once lived with us once upon a time, who had a mother and a father just like everyone else, who is perfect but suffered just like the rest of us, and who sacrificed himself to save us from our sins. I am just not what you would call a devout Catholic who’d follow every religious practice without understanding why I should do it. A devout Catholic, a man with two daughters studying in a Catholic school, once told me my ways is called “self-imposed shelter.”
For me, faith is something personal. Each of us has our own spiritual journey to realize, to walk on by, to pursue. A person with a drinking problem and making the efforts to solve it is having his/her own spiritual journey. A husband and wife who are not getting along in their marriage are having their own spiritual journey. Because sooner or later, one of them will reach out to initiate peace. Or perhaps, both of them will decide to separate. And we have no right to condemn them. We could only give advice but in the end, that is their own spiritual journey as a couple. Their actions according to their faith. A person healing his/her broken heart after splitting from a girlfriend/boyfriend is undergoing a spiritual journey. The gems of lessons he/she will learn will be priceless (let’s just hope his/her heart won’t be hardened by the heartbreak). My glimpse of the Cursillo in my short time there is now part of my own spiritual journey. A friend of mine who is a self-confessed alcoholic and now got a brain cancer and fighting for his life is having his own spiritual journey.
You don’t have to be part of a club, a Cursillo, a group, a congregation to be called a faithful. I believe that doing a good thing for your fellow human being, even though it is easy to do bad especially to do bad against the people you dislike, is like a person who came to visit the church. I believe the world is our Church. Our good deeds, even when nobody is looking, is one way of expressing our faith. Because the source of our own goodness comes from Him.
If you love praising God with a large group of people, like, for example, attending Mass, Bible study, or many other fellowships and community worships that each religion has, no one is stopping you from doing it. Because that is who you are. Because that is how you exercise your faith. To me, I just want my relationship with God to be something that’s just between me and Him. No debate, no pretension, no preacher to tell me what to do. Just a pure conversation with God. A place of worship is not just in the Church, or in front of an altar. It’s not the only place to pray, to praise God. I believe God is everywhere. He’s not out of reach. He’s just there– right inside of us, in our hearts.
Call me finicky for having walked out on a Cursillo which embarrassed my friend, which resulted to her rejecting me as her friend. Call me self-centered for strictly conforming only to my own liking. Call me a devil’s advocate because I got scared, overwhelmed when I was there. All I knew was that I didn’t wanna be there.