History of Walk to Emmaus

The historical antecedent of the Walk to Emmaus is Cursillo ("cur-see-yo"). Cursillo developed in response to a "crisis of faith" in the Catholic Church in Spain during the late 1940's under Bishop Juan Hervas. The first Cursillo weekend was held in Spain in 1948. It was a three day event consisting of fifteen Christian talks given by clergy and lay leaders.

Cursillo spread from Spain to the Americas. The first English Cursillo was held in Texas in 1961. As a result of Vatican II, Christians from other denominations were invited to Catholic Cursillos. The first Episcopal Cursillo was held in 1969. Soon other 'mainline' denominations began having Cursillo weekends.

In the fall of 1976, The Upper Room, an ecumenical agency under the Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church, asked the Catholic Peoria Cursillo Community to model two Protestant Ecumenical weekends. Those two weekends were Cursillo #108 held on April 21-24 and #110 held on May 19-22 at the St. Augustine Cursillo Center in 1977.

The Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church voted to hold a Cursillo in 1977. This is the official beginning of the Upper Room Cursillo movement. The first Upper Room Cursillo was held in Nashville. In March, 1981, the decision was made to give up the name of Cursillo and keep the ecumenical participation. The Upper Room Cursillo experience in the ecumenical setting was one of understanding, appreciation, and strengthening of a broader and healthier theology.  Eventually, the Upper Room Cursillo decided to change its name to the Walk to Emmaus.

The content and experiences are essentially the same as Cursillos sponsored by other denominations, but the Walk to Emmaus does not use any copyrighted Cursillo material. Cursillo terms were Anglicized: Palanca became Agape; Rollos because Talks; Ultreyas became Gatherings, etc. The Walk to Emmaus has the added dimension of being ecumenical.

ChrysalisLogoIn response to a need to serve young people, the Walk to Emmaus movement developed Chrysalis. The image of growing from a caterpillar to a butterfly is used. The event for high school sophmores through seniors is called a Chrysalis Flight. The event for college age, 18-25, non-marrieds is called a Chrysalis Journey.

The following is an excerpt from an article published in the May 2000 issue of Conexiones, from the Via de Cristo movement.  (Note: Palanca referred to below is the equivalent of Agape for the Walk to Emmaus.) 

We are told, in the New Testament, “the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective” (James 5:16b).  To be a righteous person is to obey God, who in his earthly form commanded us to love and pray for each other.

Prayer is the power behind palanca, the lever.  Palanca is prayer.  Palanca is not something written on a piece of paper.  Palanca is not a trinket or knick-knack or any other item no matter how lovingly made.  Palanca is prayer.  It is the actual taking time out at times that may be entirely “inconvenient” to pray for all who are attending the weekend.  Palanca is not even intended to be directed at individuals.  Palanca is meant for the entire weekend community. 

Prayer has a strong effect, even when you are not aware you’re being prayed for.  Recently I noted one or two movements touting the fact that to receive palanca from their movement, all one has to do is log on to their website and download it.  Where is the prayer and sacrifice in that?  No, that is definitely NOT palanca.  What have we done to palanca?  We have relegated it to a nice, artfully created poster with sentimental and spiritual sayings on it, but prayer and sacrifice are not apparent in such “palanca".  People of the Via de Cristo or any movement based on the Cursillo© movement, I call you back to the basic premise of palanca.  Give up something significant while you pray; assume an uncomfortable position as you pray; lay face down and pray; stand on your head and pray; get up at 11pm, 12am, 2am 4am to pray; pray instead of lunch; get together with several others each day to pray for the weekend; spend a solid hour in prayer, anything that is a sacrifice while praying.  Tell the people on the weekend what you plan to do, and then do it; but, don’t just send a poster, trinket or letter and forget about prayer and sacrifice.
— Rev. Carroll Lang