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Letter from Mike Helkenn, Lay Director

De Colores friends!

November is rich with reflective moments. The Church gives us saints days for martyrs, virgins, and the feast of the Presentation of Mary. Our country gives us one of its most treasured holidays: Thanksgiving. 

Personally, I treasure Thanksgiving for all it gives us: food, family, football, and friends... not necessarily in that order. We usually spend a great deal of time preparing food for a feast. At our home parish, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, we have a Thanksgiving mass in the morning, then Fr. Ron blesses all of the bread for our dinners that night, as well as the wine. Usually everything is stacked in a heap right in front of the altar. My friend, Joe, calls it "the great wine exchange!" Imagine bringing a Two-Buck Chuck and coming home with a Kendall Jackson!

For the past several years, our family has helped cook a Thanksgiving feast for the homeless who live in our local park. One thing we need to remember, though, is that people are hungry every day, not just during the holidays. So we should do what we can to help support efforts that will feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, and heal the sick. 

I am awed by my brothers who are involved in Kairos ministry, my sisters who work at Fr. Joe's Villages, or hospice and palliative care-givers. I recently met a Cursillo couple who (in their retirement years) build schools in Peru. They operate on a shoestring, but have made a huge impact in the lives of the local children. Mother Teresa said, "If you can't feed a hundred people, then just feed one." (Make a friend, be a friend, and bring that friend to Christ.)

Be thankful. Be generous. Be loving. Pray, read, and do for others. Then as the Church begins a new year with Advent, we can be better prepared to receive our Savior into our hearts at Christmas. Remember that Jesus was born, lived, and died as poor as any human ever was. Yet He is our King and Lord of all! 

God bless you and yours this holiday season!

Much love,

Mike Helkenn

Last Updated on Sunday, 01 December 2013 23:27

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Coffee Ma'am?

I spy him before entering the worn out parking lot at the corner 7-11 store and zero in on the phone booth. 7-11’s can be counted on for a fresh pot of coffee and a pay phone.


He looks torn, frayed, un-washed from the inside out. He is a real beggar man’s beggar. I’m not about to give him my attention. My nursing pager has gone off in response to a personal family matter. I need this phone without interference from one more pathetic soul seeking a handout.


I’m generally the type who keeps fresh fruit and protein bars handy in my car at the ready for those struggling, sign-holding-off-rampers with a shopping cart and bed roll in tow.  I must have been born with the letters “ET”, easy touch, printed in neon on my forehead.


Every loner needing a hand out finds me. Not this time, I determine.  I quickly blow away the whisper inside that says, “What would Jesus do,” Telling myself that Jesus would be getting on with this important phone call and “the poor will always be with us.”


My hasty plan is:  #1 Don’t  make eye contact, that would trap me for sure, #2  Take out a quarter, just the right amount for a phone call, no extra change, #3  Leave my purse locked in the car, #4 Make the call and get out of here.


I try not to look at him, but at the edge of my eye, I see him step closer to the phone booth. The ‘ET’ sign must be showing. I try not to scowl.

He speaks softly, hesitantly, “Ma-am?” I have to say something, no sense letting him go on.


I remain pathetically detached but in spite of myself, blurt out, “Look, I’m in a hurry, I have just enough money for a phone call and it’s an urgent family matter. I can’t help you now.”


I give in to my better self and look him in the eye with a kindness I can’t help. The actions peel away both our covers. His voice keeps its softness with an added touch of courage.

“Ma-am, may I buy you a cup of coffee?”

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 November 2013 17:17

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Another Memorial Day Weekend Wasted. Or not.

When he made his Cursillo in May 1975, Barry La Forgia had recently left the Air Force, and was attending law school at University of San Diego.  “I went up to the mountain (Pala Rey Boys’ Camp) thinking I would be wasting my Memorial Day weekend holiday. I had very little expectations that my views (borderline agnostic) would be changed.  My year spent as a pilot in the Vietnam War left me with a view that if God existed, he was a very distant God.  God may have created mankind, but he was definitely ‘missing in action’.”


Barry’s Cursillo weekend turned him around spiritually.  “It was eye-opening for me to see professional, very well educated men, with a deep faith in a personal God - a God who cared for us as His children.  For the first time in my life, I experienced God’s personal love for me. He became real to me.”   


Barry began working many Cursillo weekends as a guitarist on the music team, and his faith deepened.   After establishing a solid law practice, he still felt that God was asking him to do something “more” with his life.  He had an opportunity to work as a laborer on a mission trip to Amazon Jungle in 1986, and then in 1987 another trip took him to one of the largest garbage dumps in Mexico City.  He was appalled to see the poorest of the poor – sometimes three generations of a single family – living in filth, squalor and unsanitary conditions. “The sight of little children too tired to wipe away the flies that lined the corners of their mouth, eyes and nose was almost unbearable to watch,” recalled Barry. “To survive, families had to rummage each day through the new garbage in search of recyclables that they could sell for a few pesos to buy food.”


Barry felt he had to do something. Within eight months, he left behind his law practice and founded what was first known as Southwest Medical Teams. One of its first projects was to return to that Mexico City dump to help renovate a small medical clinic and construct a shower facility to improve the lives of the families he could not forget.  


“What I do now had its beginnings with Cursillo,” stated Barry.   


International Relief Teams (IRT), founded and directed by Barry La Forgia, will celebrate 25 years of providing hope and healing to thousands worldwide at its Gifts of Hope Gala Saturday, September 28th at the San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina.  All Cursillistas are welcome to join in the Celebration.  For reservation information, please call 619-284-7979.


Since 1998, IRT has deployed more than 5,900 volunteers, delivered $237 million in medicines and relief supplies, and has provided assistance in 66 countries, including right here in the United States.  IRT is the recipient of the Four Star (highest) rating by Charity Navigator, the largest independent evaluator of U.S. charities, for the last 10 years in a row.  Only 1% of the charities ranked have attained this distinction, and according of Charity Navigator, IRT is the only San Diego charity to receive the coveted Four Star Rating for 10 consecutive years.


“Many of the friends I made through Cursillo became the founding supporters of our organization,” said Barry.  “We couldn’t have made it without their generosity and compassion.  Many of them are still active volunteers and supporters of IRT to this day”.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 September 2013 17:23

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The men...

Attending the men’s clausura is always amazing. These men shared that now they will be better husbands and fathers. Through tears and vulnerability, these men touch our hearts with their experience of Cursillo. How does this happen in just 3 1/2 days?!

If we ever wonder why we go through team school, driving every Friday, putting our families and responsibilities on hold to work four days on a mountain, doing more work than we do at home in a whole year, we remember.

We hear a man who had been away from the church for 20 years who is now elated with his new community of brothers, having picked a new parish home because of the men he met on the weekend! We hear men’s sobs through the freeing words of “I know God’s love now”, “I saw Jesus in the face of each man here.” And three times while talking with friends, we got interrupted because a candidate wanted to give them a bear hug! I don’t mind those interruptions. To see grown men wrap their arms around each other is the most touching scene. It reminds my heart of what love is and I am grateful for this cursillo example.

Some of us maybe grew up in homes without the touchy-feely, or perhaps some rage and anger. So to be a part of a loving community of simply amazing lovers of God, is the biggest gift ever.

To give is to receive. To pray is to be enlightened. To work Cursillo is to see the face of God through the team and through changing candidates’s hearts.

What do we have in our lives that can compare to a bleeding heart that finds God! We’ve all been there. God who in His visible and miraculous way reminds us that He is bigger than any problem. We see that He heard our prayers for the candidates to know His love. “He is always with us!”

The women...

Pat's team and those I got to work with were awesome. Loving, giving, considerate, all about others. It just filled me up being around everyone. So much so, I was bummed to have to leave Saturday evening for my vacation that would begin Sunday.

As it turned out, I got to drive a candidate down the mountain who was sick. She was very sad to leave and miss out on the rest of the weekend. Through her tear drenched eyes, we talked. She shared that the weekend caused her cup to run full over and over.

One of her touching moments was during adoration. She stared at the picture of Jesus and told Him, "I love you, Jesus!!!" Just listening to her say that, made me tear. That's what this movement is all about and candidates seem to touch the hearts of the team with their experiences and reminders.

Sunday night, I called a friend's phone to listen in on clausura. Sitting in a car in Kauai for an hour and 20 minutes, I was able to hear a few sharings (below). Hearing mostly muffled voices, I could hear the love, sobs, laughter and applause.

"This is the first time I really know God's love. I am grateful to you all."

"He is love, all-forgiving..I plan on taking this to work, my children Christ's love the same way I saw it this weekend."

"I learned I can love and be loved..I'm going to share this love with my husband and children."

"I can't wait to share it with everyone else I meet!"

"..we are truly called to sainthood."

"I can't do it alone; we need community. I will share the Gospel at work; God will guide me."

"I am not here because I chose to, but because of your prayers, I was meant to be here."

"I learned that when I receive the body and blood, I am the body and blood. He comes into me and I continue to bring His love."

Applause. Laughter. "De Colores (name)". No faces, but hearing the sounds of the room, it sounded like unity, support, love, and encouragement. It made me miss being there.

Then the closing. You all sang the Our Father and I sang with you. It brought tears to my eyes and love to my heart.

“I love you, Lord!"

Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 October 2013 19:57

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Love and Laugh

It is by no chance encounter we meet God’s people. God places them in our paths to help, guide, become friends and love them, as He would.

I have gotten to know a lot of brothers and sisters in my time in our Cursillo movement through the weekends, Ultreya’s, grouping, team school, church, and yes, funerals.

We are a tight knit group. Words echoed recently in a Cursillo in Action event at my Parish Church of the Resurrection, Escondido. We shared how our lives are filtered through Cursillo we talked about how we have met friends that share the same love of our faith, thanks again Vince and Cheri Provenzano and my wife Nieves for sharing about our love for Cursillo.

I would like to talk about a dedicated group of Cursillistas that I have come to know our Deaconly brothers and their Angelic wives who have made Cursillo weekends and now are Deacons or are on the journey to becoming Deacons and receiving Diocesan certificates.

I had found out I had several brothers from my weekend #247 (April 2007, Jim House Rector) Chris Hurlburt and Patrick Wright that were in the Diaconate. This intrigued me. Wow! Two brothers from my same weekend, what are the odds, God knew.

During our Cursillo weekend these two brothers were in the same table group I recall.

When it was time to do our skits their group didn’t do the normal skits. Their group did a powerful skit that was from the heart, we all sat in amazement; we went from laughs to love in an instant for our brothers sharing of their journey’s.

I really didn’t have a clue! as they say, about the Diaconate til some years in Cursillo. I had heard some things here and there about the program it is when I started studying more about the church that I found out more details about the Diaconate program we have here in San Diego.

In my early Cursillo years we used to have , “The Cursillo School of Leaders”, I remember our Deacons Charlie Frice, Deacon Mike Daniels and other Deaconly brothers sharing their insights on several books we used as study, and you know what! It was fantastic as each Deacon had their own spin on the books messages, just like God talks to us differently, to meet us where we are at.  I miss those ole days.

I asked one brother Chris Hurlburt to give a talk while I was on the Post-Cursillo Committee to our Christian Cursillo brothers at the Ecumenical Ultreya, he did a fantastic job the other faiths loved the message of love that he described working in the hospice environment.

At the Diocesan Institute I have come to know several future Deacons and their Angelic wives, I have heard my sisters really give in great detail their knowledge of the faith and I feel in awe ,as I recall one sister explained in details parts of our faith that she was coming to understand, I could see through her study, prayer and questions she was reaching the depth we are all called to reach in learning about our rich faith, she and the many other sisters and future Deaconly brothers have been a great example to me as they were called by God and it shows in their actions. Yay God..

Some brothers I have come to know who have been in Cursillo awhile and later through a class or Cursillo gatherings I learn’t they were in formation in the Diaconate program.

One such Deaconly brother, Deacon John Sawaya asked me to be on the Post Cursillo  program to welcome our new Cursillistas as he was passing on the baton to serve the Lord in other areas. He was an inspiration to me as he was a mentor God had placed on my path.

I received some wonderful help from a Deacon in one of the oldest Parishes in California, Basilica Mission de Acala, Deacon Bill Vasquez, he allowed the Cursillo to hold several gatherings at this historic Parish for the Welcoming Ultreyas,  he too was an inspiration to me an example of God’s Love.

I cannot leave out our Parish Cursillo Deacons; Deacon Mitch Rennix, Deacon Mike Partida and future Deacons who challenges us to do more for God as they are doing and will do shortly themselves.

I also have come to know a Deacon who has an awesome bible study and Prison ministry and founder of the Men’s Benedictus group, what he lacks in physical strength he makes up in spiritual might, Deacon Ken Finn is my example of Giving all to God,  it is what all my Cursillo Deaconly brothers strive for I am sure.

We have a  singing Deacon, Dennis ONeil and dancing Deacons; Deacons Charlie and Rick Melrose and beautiful bald Deacons; Deacon Murray that light up a Cursiilo weekend.

A recent study done by CARA states more brothers are taking up the call to serve as Deacons in Parishes.

My Brothers and sister if you haven’t already, please get to know these big guys our Deaconly brothers you will be glad you did.

Thanks be to God.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 September 2013 17:13

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©2012 San Diego English Speaking Cursillo

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