ACTS retreats have enriched the lives of hundreds of thousands of people; men and women, teens and retirees, rich and poor, Catholic and non-Catholic, in the United States as well as other countries. It has reinvigorated the spiritual lives of individuals, of families, of entire parishes. Yet, 25 years ago, it did not even exist. The way this wonderful program came to be is a beautiful blend of the Holy Spirit and those who listen to His words.
No history of ACTS would be complete without the help of, and some familiarity with, the Cursillo retreat. Cursillo began in Spain in the years between WWI and WWII, in response to what many in the church saw as the increasing secularization of many Catholics in Spain at the time. It was intended to be a short course (the Spanish for short course is "cursillo") on the Catholic faith, and soon became widely popular for its profound effect on people's spirituality. By the mid 1980's, it had spread to many places in the world, including Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Selma, Texas, a suburb of San Antonio. It was here that three men who were heavily involved in Cursillo planned the first ACTS retreat.
Ed Courtney, Joe Hayes, and Marty Sablik were instructors and coordinators with Cursillo, with years of Cursillo experience and a mutual friendship. They thought that several aspects of Cursillo could be improved in order to make the retreat more relevant to the needs of the parish, especially after the changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council. From the beginning, they all felt that it was important for the retreat to be open to everyone, not just to Catholics, and not just to those who were sponsored by someone. Ed, acting under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, met Joe and Marty at a coffee shop to build a new retreat called ACTS. This seemed logical to Ed since the Acts of the Apostles described what the apostles did, and are we not the apostles of today? Since the three main points in Cursillo were Piety, Study, and Action, Ed felt it absolutely necessary to bring them into ACTS. Once again under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Ed used a dictionary to help him correlate the letters A, C, T, and S into the themes of Adoration, Community, Theology, and Service. Joe Hayes, with the help of the Holy Spirit, was instrumental in securing the approval of both their pastor, Fr. Patrick Cronin, and that of Archbishop Flores. Another friend and parishioner, Wallace Vaughn, was inspired by the Holy Spirit to read Acts 2:42-47, the passage that became the biblical inspiration for the weekend.
After that first retreat in 1987, ACTS spread parish to parish in the San Antonio Archdiocese, and by 1997 there were perhaps 15 parishes with an ACTS program in place. In that year, ACTS Missions was formed as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization for the purpose of spreading and maintaining the ACTS retreat wherever the Holy Spirit prompted it.
ACTS Missions was started by Larry Lopez and Tony Deosdade, two men who had such a profound experience on their retreat that they were inspired to make sure everyone in the world should have the opportunity to receive it as well. From its headquarters at the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas, this small organization now leverages thousands of volunteers every year to bring the retreat to even more thousands of people, allowing them to experience the love of God through their fellow Christians. Today, ACTS is in at least 22 states in the U.S., 8 states in Mexico, as well as Canada, Honduras, South Africa and England. Interest is growing literally around the world.
People have credited ACTS with saving their lives, saving their marriages, convincing them to be ordained as priests or deacons, or leading them to the religious life, simply by opening their eyes and their hearts to God's word. Pastors have praised its positive effects on their parishes, leading to highly invigorated parish life. Bishops and other church leaders have called it the most important movement in the Catholic Church today; all this from a handful of faith-filled people with the courage and perseverance to be led by the Holy Spirit.
What Does A.C.T.S. stand for?
A.C.T.S. is an acronym for Adoration, Community, Theology and Service and it is these four themes that are the focus of the activities of a retreat weekend hosted several times each year. The ACTS weekend is an opportunity for retreatants to develop a deeper relationship with the Lord and fellow parishioners through Adoration and daily prayer, Community with the parish as members of one Body of Christ, Theology as taught by our Catholic faith and study, and Service to our Lord and one another for the building up of the Kingdom of God.
The A.C.T.S. retreat begins on a Thursday evening, with check-in usually starting at 5:15 p.m. and ends on Sunday following the moon Mass with a closing meal provided in the parish hall for retreatant and family. lodging, meals and transportation to and from the retreat center is provided and is included in the registration fee.
What is an A.C.T.S. retreat?
An A.C.T.S. retreat is a 3-day, 3-night Catholic lay retreat presented by fellow parishioners like yourself. Much of the weekend will be spent with a team from our parish who face the same difficulties as you are living in today?s world. The weekend is filled with talks, reflection time, singing, praising, the Sacraments, and sharing the blessings with the Lord.
The members of the ACTS community will strive to assist members of the parish family to attain a deeper relationship with our Lord and with fellow parishioners through:
Adoration - Community - Theology - Service
The call, acceptance and response to God. Love and caring for each other as members of the body of Christ. Study of our faith through scripture. To God, each other and our parish family. To achieve this goal, there will be two major focus points. First, we will sponsor weekend lay retreats, which are patterned after the description of the early church in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2: 42-47) The purpose of the weekend is to invite the retreatant to a new relationship with our Lord and fellow parishioners through Adoration and daily prayer; through Community in one?s parish as a member of the body of Christ; through Theology encouraging an intellectual and spiritual growth that gives fruits in our daily lives; and finally to encourage a spirit of Service to our Lord, our parish and each other. Participants experience God?s love and joy through the weekend, returning to their faith community with a deeper love for each other and an increased desire to become more involved in their parish community.
Second, we will focus on spiritual development, service orientation and on-going community building among those who have attended ACTS retreats. This mission is continued and enhanced by retreat reunions, scheduled gatherings of the ACTS community, prayer groups, evangelization, community service projects, and other faith enriching events.
The governing body of the ACTS community will be a group of men and women known as the ACTS Core. As with all parish ministries, Acts Core shall solicit the support of and be governed by the pastor. The greater good of the parish shall be foremost in activities of the Core and ACTS Community.