“Every journey, whether it’s a mile or a thousand miles, begins with a step,” said Vicente Del Real, founder of Iskali — an organization dedicated to empowering and supporting young Latinos through faith formation.
At a time when many young Latinos report not feeling part of the Church, Iskali (a term that comes from the Nahuatl language of Mexico and means to grow, resurge and begin again) seeks to reach out to them and “provide a space for them to have an encounter with God.”
And, as Del Real said, it all started with one step. Even though Iskali’s work today includes hundreds of young people across the country, he founded Iskali as a small group at St. Charles Borromeo in Melrose Park, Illinois, in 2010.
After emigrating to the U.S. from Zacatecas, Mexico, in 2004 to receive improved medical care for rheumatoid arthritis, he participated in a parish retreat when he was 18, which led him to become fully involved in his faith and ask how he could serve. “When I was 19, I talked to my pastor (at St. Charles Borromeo) and asked him if he would give me the chance to start something new for young (Latino) people born in the United States, and he said yes,” recalled Del Real. “That’s when Iskali began.”
From its inception in 2010 until 2014, Iskali focused its ministry on serving Latino young adults at St. Charles Borromeo. Whether organizing annual retreats, creating lay discipleship communities or implementing a faith formation program, Del Real’s goal, through Iskali, was clear: to help its members grow in faith, build community — and thus lead them to God.
He never imagined that by opening up Iskali to other parishes in 2014, the response from young people from all over Chicago would be incredible. “There were young people from all over the city trying to come, join, or come to an Iskali training or retreat,” he said.
“Many of them got lost after high school and they have the dream of going back to school and they want to study, but they can’t because of the economic situation but also, sometimes, because of the situation that they don’t even know how to apply,” he said.
Because of this, Iskali incorporated a mentoring program — in which young adults are paired with Hispanic professionals — that could guide, support and advise its members on issues related to professional development.
More than a decade after its inception, Iskali continues to minister to young adults — primarily second and third-generation Latinos — in active communities in Chicago and now in Milwaukee and Indianapolis.
The amalgamation of faith formation with nurturing personal relationships and professional development has resonated with over 1,500 young adults who have seen their lives transformed through the organization.
For Alexis Campa, the organization’s sports and wellness program — which aims to promote its members’ physical and mental well-being — attracted him to Iskali.
“Those voids I had before, being far from God, not getting close to the Church, I have been able to fill them,” Campa said. He credits the organization with returning him to God and teaching him more about serving others.