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Croatian ‘car maniacs’ revved up for God and neighbour

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Fr Davor Filco, parish priest at Summer Hill’s Croatian church, celebrated Mass and conducted a pilgrim blessing before over 100 muscle cars and motorbikes set off for Figtree on the second annual Croatian Pilgrimage Cruise. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Fr Davor Filco, parish priest at Summer Hill’s Croatian church, celebrated Mass and conducted a pilgrim blessing before over 100 muscle cars and motorbikes set off for Figtree on the second annual Croatian Pilgrimage Cruise. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Folk music, fraternity and petrol fumes fill the air as the men pile out of the St Nikola Tavelic Church. This is evangelisation with a difference.

At an event representing the ultimate intersection of two passions—Christ and cars—nearly 300 men drawn from the Sydney Croatian community assembled on 10 February for a pilgrimage with a difference.

Over 100 muscle cars, hot rods and family cars, and nearly 30 motorbikes, took part in the second annual Croatian Pilgrimage Cruise.

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The convoy started at St Nikola Tavelic Church in St John’s Park and ended at Mary Queen of Croats Catholic Church in Figtree, in the Diocese of Wollongong.

Now in its second year, the initiative by Croatian Catholic group, the Knights of the Precious Blood, is an effort to get more of their community back to the church.

“We know that most of the Croatians growing up were all baptised in the faith, but some people wander off,” said lead organiser, Robert Zrilic.

“So, we thought, what’s something they’re all passionate about? We all like our cars, especially the old school cars.

“And we said, why don’t we combine the two to get everyone back to our church?”

Fr Davor Philco, parish priest at Summer Hill’s Croatian church, is revving his motorbike, having just conducted a pilgrim blessing in church before they set out.

“This is the perfect way to get men back to the church. People love cars, but people still love God,” he says, adjusting his helmet.

“Combine those things and you get the perfect mixture of both.

“Look at the smiles on the men. They are really engaged and they’re loving being together with the whole brotherhood.”

Seventy-six-year-old “car maniac” Tony Lipovic is attending for the first time with his beloved 1974 two-door Ford GT coupe.

“It’s my first time. I treat my cars like a human. And to have her blessed at the end of the pilgrimage in Wollongong will be very special,” he said.

Older “rev head” Branko Curjak is surprised by the turn out, especially among the young people.

“It makes me proud to see the young ones here. Christ is within us all and we grew up with cars. To get the generations coming together is great!” he said.

Twenty-one-year-old Josip Crepulja sits astride his Harley ready to ride out.

“Events like these—it’s a show of our faith and show that we are strong and we are together,” he said.

This year’s pilgrimage raised nearly $15,000 for a Catholic charity in Croatia “Kap Dobrote.”

For organiser Robert, the real success of the day was seeing new faces and old returning to the church.

“When you see one of those old faces rock up, it’s just that amazing feeling. Hopefully they feel the love, the fraternity and they come back,” he said.

“That’s what this is about. Bringing guys like that back to the faith.”

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