AGING VISIONARY : Eduardo Bonnin has devoted his life to a movement dedicated to spreading the Christian message of love through one-to-one relationships.
By Bob Harvey (Citizen religion and ethics editor)
Eduardo Bonnin is short, frail and 79 years old. His steps are now slow, his English halting as he steps up to speak to some of his Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran followers in Ottawa. Yet through Cursillo, the Christian renewal movement he founded 52 years ago, this man's ideas have touched an estimated three million people around the world.
And it was easy to see why when he began to speak in one of many talks he'll give as he meets some of the 125,000 Canadians who have participated in Cursillo over the last 30 years. Bonnin believes what he teaches, and lives it out.
"We must love one another. If we do not catch this way, there will be wars," he said.
And there were more clear, simple ideas that he says are the core of a movement meant to spread the Christian way of life through one-on-one relationships.
"Cursillo is not for the comfort of good people. Cursillo is for people far away from the church."
"Newspapers, radio, television don't give the solution to life. Christ gives the solution."
"You can't say to someone, 'You must go to church.' You say, 'You must be friends of mine.' When the bridge is built, then you can speak of Christ."
These ideas and others are part of the three-day weekend retreats that are the heart of Cursillo, a Spanish word meaning "short course.". The retreats are experiences designed to give Christian and non-Christian alike what Bonnin says is more important than the ideas : "An encounter with yourself, with Christ and with your neighbour" that touches the heart and the emotion as well as the mind.
What Cursillo provides for many is not only an initial conversion experience, but also deep ongoing relationships through small groups and other events that challenge men and women to keep up the Christian commitments they have made during the retreats.
Cursillo is still spreading throughout the world. The Philippines is its hot spot, where more than two million people have attended Cursillo retreats over the last 40 years. In Canada, the first Cursillo was held in Trois-Rivieres, Que., in 1963, and today there are regular retreats for the deaf, for aboriginals, and for a number of ethnic groups, as well as for members of several denominations. The concepts work just as well in Taiwan as in Africa, says Bonnin.
The retreats still use the same 13 talks on the fundamentals of Christianity that Bonnin and six others worked out for the first Cursillo retreat on the Spanish island of Mallorca in 1944. And although Bonnin says he could never have anticipated the movement would spread so far, he said they had hopes. Even at the first retreat, "We said we would never stop until we gave a Cursillo on the moon."
Bonnin says that all he did was study the works of theologians such as Yves Congar, and psychologists such as Carl Rogers, then synthesize these ideas into short talks. "The Holy Spirit did it. I don't make nothing," he says.
One of the key concepts of Cursillo is to "be Christian and form community where we are." That's how Bonnin has spent his whole life.
Except for nine years of military service, he always worked in the family almond business on Mallorca. But he never married, and spent his vacations giving Cursillo retreats, and his weeknights visiting prisoners and befriending others.
Bob Robinson, a member of the Catholic Cursillo's national council in Canada, calls Bonnin a prophet. "He listens to the heart of God speaking in his heart and leads the way in a simple and gentle way. He lives the method," he says.
Robinson's full of stories about Bonnin and his concern for others. Of the prisoner he's visited for 20 years, but never - yet - tried to convert. Of the two hardened murderers he visited the night before their executions, and who went to the gallows with a smile because they had believed Bonnin's conversation-starter: "You are very lucky. You will see Christ tomorrow."
My short interview with Bonnin is difficult because I'm never too sure we've overcome the language barrier enough to truly understand one another. I keep asking him, "What is so special about you? How did you accomplish so much?" Bonnin continues to insist that he did nothing, that he is only "a blunt instrument" in the hands of God, that God gave him the gift of faith, that God did all the work.
But at the end, I ask him: "I don't have as strong a faith as you. Why doesn't God give me that gift? Why you?"
This time I know Bonnin truly understands, because he seizes the opportunity: "You have it (faith) but you must discover it. You must go in the deep of yourself and you will find it. Your eyes say to me you are a man of faith.
"You must do a Cursillo."
From page C7, Ottawa Citizen, 1 June 1996.