When young Alexis was arrested for being involved with people who stole a car in Chicago, his mom forced him to go on a retreat with Iskali, an organization that ministers to the faith formation and education of young Hispanic Catholics.
He didn’t want to go, obviously, but that retreat changed everything for Alexis. After connecting with Iskali, he turned his life around.
“He began a healing process of transformation through that retreat,” said Vicente Del Real, founder of Iskali, in an interview with Aleteia.
Today, Alexis is in his second year of university, studying engineering. Iskali connected him with an engineering mentor and a scholarship, and he’s a very active member of his parish and a leader in his Catholic small-group community. “He is now really an example. I admire him,” Del Real said.
Alexis’ story is one of dozens of similar stories. The dynamic team at Iskali has worked with hundreds of Hispanic Catholic youth to build their faith and support a great education.
Iskali: Filling a vital need for Hispanic Catholics
Hispanic Catholics are critical to the Church in the United States, as about 40% of American Catholics are Hispanic. But those numbers are dropping in recent years as a steady flow of Hispanics leave the Catholic Church. Over 14 million young Hispanics have left the Catholic Church between 2010 and 2015 alone.
One young Hispanic entrepreneur, Vicente Del Real, saw this decline and wanted to do something to stop it. He began this work in 2010 at his parish, St. Charles Borromeo in Melrose Park, Illinois. In the intervening 13 years, the organization he started, Iskali, has grown and exceeded all expectations, changing countless lives in the process.
Iskali’s mission is to reach out to the young Hispanics leaving the Church and provide them with a space to have an encounter with God. Inspired by Our Lady of Guadalupe’s role in the Americas as the star of the new evangelization, Iskali members promise Our Lady of Guadalupe to be agents of the new evangelization with a special call to young people.
Today, Iskali is present at 20 parishes throughout the Midwest. About 400 young people are involved with Iskali at this time, and through them hundreds more lives are changed by the ripple effect of their positive example.
The four pillars
What’s the secret to success for Del Real and the team at Iskali? He shared the four pillars of Iskali that guide everything they do.
Faith and community
Iskali facilitates hundreds of Catholic retreats per year through its retreat center, Casa Iskali. They also facilitate small-group communities for ongoing faith formation, as well as one-on-one discipleship and guidance.
One event that’s highly anticipated every year is the Iskali conference at the University Notre Dame, with whom Iskali has a partnership. “It’s a space where young Latinos can have access to world-class speakers and experience to grow in faith and formation,” Del Real said.
The weekly small groups are the heart and soul of Iskali: “We know young adults are looking for intimacy, friendship, and a place where they can feel welcomed and share their gifts, a place where they can be encouraged and encourage others,” he said. The small group communities provide that place.
Mentorship and professional development
“Many young Latinos don’t have anyone in their family or close friends who are professionals,” Del Real explained.
Iskali connects mid-career Latino professionals with young people whom they can mentor and help discern a career path. The program provides a network of support to help the next generation of Hispanic Catholics grow into leadership roles.
About 90% of low-income, first-generation students do not graduate within six years, and Iskali is working to change that statistic.
“We have a commitment to help them flourish,” Del Real said. “It’s part of our Catholic tradition to educate and help others get educated.” To this end, Iskali offers a robust scholarship program that, along with their mentoring program, is proven to help young people graduate from university.
Sports and physical activity
Iskali offers affordable organized sports programs for young adults, including recreational soccer, basketball and volleyball, a running club, and fitness classes. These energetic events build friendships and offer a positive outlet, promoting mental and physical health for young Latinos.
The good work of Iskali is the kind of news we all need to hear. It’s encouraging to know about the hundreds of lives changed for the better, and the hundreds of young people growing in faith and education. You can contribute to Iskali’s efforts here and through your prayers for their ongoing success.