Family to represent us all

The Poljak family in Sydney earlier this year. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

The Poljak family have experienced God’s help in both the struggles and the joys of family life, and are looking forward to meeting thousands of other families who feel the same way.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher selected the family of eight to represent the Sydney Archdiocese at the World Meeting of Families (WMF) in Dublin from August 21-26.

Jelena and Branko Poljak and their four youngest children, Jeremija 14, Magdalen 13, Elajda 11, and Mary 7, will make a 10-day pilgrimage for the event which is held every three years.

Along with their son Emanuel 21, and daughter Veronika 20, the family have endured a tough period since Emanuel was diagnosed with leukemia in the final year of his HSC. He beat the cancer but still suffers side effects from chemotherapy and other medications.

Jelena said she felt “lost for words” at the news they had been chosen and that the opportunity to go to Dublin to hopefully see Pope Francis “is really an answer to prayers”.

“Our family has been through a lot, and it has been hard and is still hard,” she said.

“All of the children have had to grow up a lot through this journey.”

The family are very active in their parish of St John the Baptist, Bonnyrigg, with Jelena serving on its pastoral council, church cleaning roster, and as a Liturgy of the Word minister.

The couple host first sacrament preparation for small groups in their home, while most of the children have been altar servers.

Parish priest Fr Dominic Dinh said he is delighted that the “cheerful, friendly family” will be representing Sydney Catholic families in Dublin.

Previously the Poljaks were stalwarts of their Croatian Catholic community at St Nikola Tavelic in St John’s Park, with Branko serving on its pastoral council, helping to publish its 25-year history and assisting with building projects. Both communities have been supporting the family with prayer.

Branko said the family’s first overseas trip is an “incredible opportunity” which they could not have otherwise achieved.

“We tell the children that God is there and always talking with us if we choose to listen.

“So it is nice to know that at this time when we (I in particular) are struggling and seeking direction, something like this has come our way; a message that God wants us to walk a particular path.”

Ten-year-old Elajda is excited about the possibility of seeing Pope Francis, while his older sister Magdalen is “still overwhelmed” at the news.

“I’m sure that every one of us will make unforgettable memories,” she said.

The WMF is the largest international gathering of families in the world. The theme this time is ‘The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World’ and it will include keynote speakers, workshops, testimonies, discussions, daily Mass, as well as prayer time and cultural and musical performances.

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