Be not afraid: Faith-based leaders learn from challenges

Photo Caption: State Rep. Mike Unes (R-91st) shares the story of why he got into politics during the Faith-Based Leadership Workshop in Peoria on March 29.

By: By Tom Dermody

Asked to boil down a morning of discussion on faith-centered leadership to just three words of advice, a group of students from the John Paul II Catholic Newman Center at Illinois State University earned an A+ for both editing and presentation.

“Be not afraid,” they suggested.

Then, one of the students, Sierra Aranast, put it in social media terms: “#benotafraid.”

Finally, the dozen students broke into spontaneous song, sharing their rendition of Catholic recording artist Janelle’s tribute to Blessed John Paul II, “Be Not Afraid.”

“I don’t tear up easily, but you got to me,” said Dodie Gomer, a discussion leader at the diocese’s 2014 Faith-Based Leadership Workshop that drew nearly 70 participants to the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria on March 29. The annual event offers ways to connect with God in daily life, work, and relationships.

This year, the day’s major speakers used personal examples to show how God is present even in our most difficult days, often turning challenges into opportunities we never imagined.

For Jeannine McAllister of St. Edward Parish, Chillicothe, two serious auto accidents deepened her desire to serve persons with disabilities.

“There is a reason and a growth that comes out of these things,” said McAllister, executive director at Advocates for Access, a nonprofit organization that empowers people with disabilities to live independently. Married for 32 years and the mother of Major League Baseball pitcher Zach McAllister, she formerly served as principal of St. Edward School in Chillicothe and was also involved in Special Persons Encounter Christ.

Meanwhile, State Rep. Mike Unes (R-91st) told how he had to “dig deep” when the rigors of an election campaign, including personal attacks by an opponent, began to affect his family.

He credited his Catholic faith — and guidance from Father Terry Cassidy, pastor of St. Ann Parish in Peoria — for transforming the challenge into “a turning point and a life lesson.”

“When you work at something for the right reasons and your intentions are pure you have to keep moving on,” he told the group, saying they will encounter “bullies” throughout life, not just on the school playground. “I’m proud of my morals, values and principles.”

He later added the campaign battles were God’s way of saying “get ready” for the “frustrating environment” in Springfield.

Unes told the group he is guided by a poem given to him during a campaign home visit. Titled “Anyway,” it was written by Blessed Mother Teresa.

“Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; give the world the best you’ve got anyway,” reads one verse. Other verses encourage forgiveness, kindness, and honesty even when they are not returned.

“I have battles every single day,” said Unes. “I continue to pray for guidance, clarity, and strength to keep going.”

The morning began with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC. He urged those who are leaders — in their families, workplaces, or communities — to constantly examine their lives and allow God’s love and mercy to transform them.

“If we think we’re perfect, or if we have no questions and have it all under control, what good to us is someone who we call our savior, our redeemer?” he asked.

“Every single one of us needs to realize we are not God. God is God,” said the bishop. “Every single one of us needs to remember there is always more to learn about the Gospel and Jesus.”

Midway through the morning, the group was guided through the luminous mysteries of the rosary by Deacon Greg Serangeli.

After each presentation, Gomer challenged participants to summarize their discussion first in seven words, then in three. Other examples included “How will God’s love shine through you?,” “Pray and act,” and “Lead by example.”

This was the diocese’s fifth Faith-Based Leadership Seminar. Moderator Jack Desatnick said faith-based leaders should have empathy for everyone, seek to always do what is right, and look for ways to “give back” in gratitude.

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