By Laura Ieraci | OSV News
Six siblings, all in their golden years, have banded together to support the eldest brother among them in realizing his lifelong dream of building a church — although the location came as a surprise.
Ted Pollock, 89, retired from his business in Yakima, Washington, only three years ago, and the sale in 2021 of the racetrack he owned and operated for decades finally afforded him the possibility to pursue his dream, which he said was present to him throughout his life.
“It was in my mother’s womb that I had a dream that I would build a church before I die,” he said. “But I had never dreamed the church would be in Ethiopia.”
When the costs involved in constructing a church in the United States proved prohibitive, Ted connected with Catholic Near East Welfare Association through his younger brother, David, a longtime supporter of the New York-based papal agency dedicated to supporting the pastoral and humanitarian work of the Eastern churches.
“They had the land (in Ethiopia) and needed to build a church, and I could do that,” Ted told ONE, the publication of CNEWA. “It’s a great feeling.”
David handled all the building and funding details on his brother’s behalf with CNEWA’s development officer, Haimdat Sawh, who said the project in Arekit, a rural village in the Ethiopian Catholic Eparchy of Emdibir, has since expanded beyond the church construction per the Pollock family’s request. It will now include a well and the purchase and development of adjacent lots for a community garden.
“We can evangelize the whole area because of the water well,” said David, who lives in Conroe, Texas. “In this way, the church will become the center of the community.”
Emdibir, situated about 120 miles southwest of Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, is among the peaceful areas in Ethiopia, which continues to struggle with hunger and civil unrest after a two-year war in the northern Tigray region.
The current chapel in Arekit serves about 200 families. Construction of Bata Lemariam Church (Church of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple) is underway and is expected to take about a year to complete.
The brothers were moved by the video they received this past spring of the stone-laying ceremony in Arekit, in which Bishop Musie Gebreghiorghis of Emdibir, thanked them personally.
“Today is a big day for this area,” where the faithful “have been dreaming” for such a moment, said Bishop Gebreghiorghis in his recorded message. “They have never had a big church. They have been praying in a small hut, in a very poor condition. Today, thanks to your contribution, your financial support, we will be able to build a decent church.”
The bishop addressed criticisms of putting funding toward a new church when many people are suffering and dying from hunger, saying Jesus both fed the hungry and preached the kingdom of God.
“That is also the mission of our Catholic Church,” he said. “The Catholic Church takes care of the integral development of the human person. We preach the Gospel but, also, we feed the hungry.”
He pointed to the Catholic elementary school adjacent to the church property. “Where we build the church, side by side, we build schools, clinics, activities for the development of the community.”
“Development comes through people who believe in God, who believe in brotherhood, as Pope Francis has said in his encyclical. We are all brothers. And, therefore, brotherhood comes through faith in God and through faith in the dignity of the human person, who is created in the image and likeness of God,” he said.
Since the stone-laying ceremony in mid-March, David said, his five sisters — Margaret, 93; Dorothy, 91; Judy, 80; Patsy, 79, and Linda, 76 — also have come on board to support the project.
“We are a very close family,” he said. Four other brothers and one sister are deceased.
David, 83, recalled the challenges growing up with his siblings in Castleton, North Dakota. Their father, a farmer who turned to construction to earn a better wage, died on a worksite when David was 4.
The family relied on welfare and struggled to make ends meet. Their mother worked six-hour evening shifts at the local theater, earning $3 a night, which was insufficient to provide for 12 children. David and his brother Donny would supplement her income, shining shoes at the local tavern.
“We had nothing,” said David. “But we made it through all of that. We were all good kids and grew up to be a beautiful family.”
David and his siblings were familiar with the Christian East through their grandmother, who was Orthodox. They had worshipped in the Orthodox Church in childhood, but they eventually started attending the local Catholic church and were all received into the Catholic Church at the same time.
They attended Catholic school and church every Sunday, kept first Fridays and prayed the rosary as a family. Church and a strong faith have been constants throughout their lives, he said. He also witnessed to the closeness of Jesus he experienced as a teen and to many moments of grace, including a miraculous rescue from a life-threatening situation.
At 17, he joined the Army and served for three years, before shifting into the paper industry and then starting a 30-year career at Merrill Lynch as a financial adviser.
“The Lord has blessed our family a lot,” he said.
This spring, all his sisters “bought into” the idea “right away” of realizing Ted’s dream as a family project, he added.
When asked why he waited so long to find a church-building project, Ted said, “I was looking for the opportunity when I could pay for it. I wasn’t looking to do it during a particular time.
“God has been good to help me get it done.”
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Laura Ieraci is assistant editor of ONE, the publication of Catholic Near East Welfare Association.