The Thomas More Centre organised a series of functions around Victoria in February connected with the week-long visit of 29-year-old Riccardo Piol, the international public relations officer of the lay ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation.
This movement, with its headquarters in Italy, is now found in about 70 countries worldwide. Its name synthesises the conviction that experiencing the life of faith in communion with others is the foundation of authentic human liberation.
Riccardo Piol came with a simple message about living one's faith with a more profound and immediate sense about the fact of Jesus' incarnation, death and resurrection. He spoke at nine events between 19-26 February 2004.
On the morning of 20 February Mr Piol addressed six classes and many teachers at St John's College, Dandenong. As a result many teachers are maintaining direct contact with him and with people at the Thomas More Centre in North Melbourne.
In the evening, there was a full house at the Thomas More Centre for a public talk to launch the Thomas More Summer School. Mr Piol spoke about the need for fraternity in our efforts both to evangelise, and to resist the eradication of the Christian presence in society.
The chairman for the evening was Syd Tutton, head of the Society of St Vincent de Paul in Victoria. Following the evening Mr Tutton wrote, "It was indeed a privilege and a pleasure to be asked to chair the lecture of Riccardo Piol. My best wishes for the future in your endeavours to bring Christ and his message in our secular society."
Following the lecture, Riccardo Piol took a two-hour bus trip from Melbourne to a camp site at Alexandra for the Thomas More Summer School. The School was an excellent weekend, and the visitor was in his element, with plenty of person-to-person conversations and a series of excellent talks on the call to bring the light of faith into the social life of our nation, the Mass, Eucharistic Adoration and confession.
Next morning Mr Piol travelled to the Sale diocese for a National Civic Council regional conference, where there was standing room only. In the evening he gave a public talk in Warragul at the Catholic Education Office chaired by Bishop Coffey, who welcomed both Piol and the call to evangelisation.
He in turn invited the Bishop to see him in Rome during the Australian Bishops' upcoming ad limina visit. Bishop Coffey, who said that Piol spoke a "simple but effective message", thanked Peter Westmore and the Thomas More Centre for organising this event.
Mr Piol spent Monday, 23 February, in Melbourne at Xavier College, a major sponsor of his Victorian visit. Typical of Riccardo Piol and the Communion and Liberation approach was that as well as class presentations, Piol sought out individual students and teachers to spend time and chat with them.
Early the following day, he spoke at the Catholic Adult Education Centre's Spirituality in the Workplace on the topic, "Catholic and Political life: where to now?" This function was organised by Brother Mark O'Connor.
After an opportunity later in the day to see some Australian flora and fauna at the Ballarat Wildlife and Reptile park, Mr Piol attended a dinner and gave a talk for the Ballarat Diocese on the subject of faith education.
Along with Piol was John Kinder, Professor of Italian Literature at the University of Western Australia, who spoke of the Communion and Liberation message as an active friendship with Christ to be spread to others as something readily translatable to the Australian environment - something universal and not confined to those of Italian culture.
Both speakers reminded the audience of a fine principle of faith education that comes from the works of Fiodor Dostoevsky: that there is nothing more absurd than an answer without a question. Explanations of the Catholic faith run much more naturally when they are given as answering the deepest questions and desires in the hearers.
The Thomas More Centre was indebted to Dr Anne Hunt, Rector of Australian Catholic University's Ballarat campus, who chaired the event, and to Bishop Peter Connors who gave the vote of thanks.
On Wednesday morning there was an Italian breakfast talk, sponsored by the Italian Lawyers' Association, where the challenge to evangelisation was put to everybody. Bishop Coleridge revealed his impeccable Italian and gave a lucid summary in English for those with Italian names but no facility with the Italian language.
Riccardo Piol made a deep impression on those involved with him during his rushed visit, not least through his unassuming, positive and friendly outlook. There was never a complaint about the crowded, tiring itinerary; and even the spartan camping accommodation at Alexandra elicited no complaint.
Having arrived with a notepad, he was pleased to have it filled with the names of contacts by the time he left. He was a particularly effective role model for the many young people who encountered him during his stay in Victoria, while he in his turn appeared most impressed by the friendly staff and efficient running of the Thomas More Centre.