In 1975, Tom Johnson, an attorney and Catholic Cursillista from Miami, Florida, attended an ecumenical Cursillo gathering in Atlanta, Georgia. Though delegates came from several denominations presenting Cursillo weekends, this Atlanta gathering was heavily Lutheran. The original Cursillo movement was derived from the Roman Catholic church of Spain.
Tom Johnson had been imagining a Cursillo program in prison for some months. During the Atlanta meeting Tom learned some of the delegates were planning a prison weekend in Iowa. Tom approached the Iowa delegate, Pastor Gene Hermeier and asked permission to attend. One week later, Tom was observing a Cursillo weekend in an Iowa prison. Excited by the experience, he returned to Miami determined to begin Cursillo weekends in Florida prisons. That first weekend was held at Union Correctional Institution at Raiford, Florida in the fall of 1976.
By 1978, six or seven states were presenting a Cursillo short course in prison. The national Cursillo office in Dallas surveyed these prison Cursillos and determined they should be ecumenical, and supervised by a central authority. They felt the format should be modified to better meet inmate needs. Cursillo asked the Florida group to design such a program. The first Kairos was presented in 1979. Following that first "Kairos" weekend, Cursillo asked other areas who were doing Cursillo weekends in prison to stop using the Cursillo name and join Kairos.
Kairos dates its history back to that first weekend at Union C I in Raiford, FL in September of 1976. Kairos is now active in 31 states and in the countries of Australia, Canada, England, Costa Rica, Peru, Nicaragua, Honduras and South Africa. The ministry is active in over 400 ministry sites and 50 Kairos Outside ministries for women whose sons and husbands are in prison. Kairos has requests for its program in Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Nigeria, and several other countries.
Kairos does this with a paid staff of twelve people and over 30,000 volunteers who pay for the 640+ weekends we present each year. Recidivism studies in Florida and South Carolina found that Kairos experience brought a drop in recidivism of about one-third when compared to a control group.
By bringing the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ into prison, Kairos is widely recognized as a highly effective program to positively change inmate attitudes.
As background, Eduardo Bonin, Bernado Vadell, Fransico Forteza, and others were inspired to develop a program designed to seek and coach Christians capable of being strong representatives of Christianity in their communities and environment. The program they developed, Cursillo, began as a movement of the Church in Spain in the 1930's. The founders aimed to face the reality of their world that they might transform it. This transformation becomes possible as man feels the penetrating love of Jesus Christ that goes deep into his human reality - it is a spiritual experience. The desired result is that each person chosen to participate in Cursillo would know how to work effectively in their own world and environment. Kairos has adapted Cursillo for the prison environment.
The Kairos method of talks, meditations, individual and group activities is an invitation to live in a personal relationship with the living Christ. Kairos is not only to help Christ in saving souls, but to put human lives in service - literally to transform prison environments.
So, the most important outcome of the weekend short course is to introduce each of us to Christ's love so as to enable us to produce a practical realization in our 4th day - the rest of our lives. The need is to insert Christ into a pagan world and its structures. In a sense this represents the dynamic vision of a believer in Christ - alive growing and operating within the Church. Before we can balance the world we must seek to balance the man. It is not primarily a means to resolve personal problems, but to inspire the man to "be" the solution. It is truly a means to "discover the apostle" and allow him to truly live as a follower of Christ.
The Kairos method confronts man with his problems and his personal history and Christ is presented as the only total solution. This in truth can only be done by the man himself - too many distractions tend to make him immune to the journey.
This life long journey is supported in community by the prayer and share group which provides the encouragement and safety for further exploration. It is this continuing community where one finds the strength of ones perseverance and the most efficient way to spread apostolic action.
Kairos Prison Ministry has made certain adaptations for this method to be effective in the environment of prisons. We do this because we are prompted by the Holy Spirit to remember, "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." In Matthew 25:36 He has called us to visit the prison environment.
The Kairos continuing ministry of reunions and spiritual retreats allows us in community to provide a more authentic, continuous, and vital Christianity which changes lives.