Latino Catholic entrepreneur recognized among Chicago ‘40 under 40’

Vicente del Real Vicente del Real | Courtesy photo.

A Latino Catholic entrepreneur and founder of a successful ministry for millennials was this month listed among the most influential Latinos in Chicago under age 40 by a national Hispanic business publication. 

Vicente Del Real, founder of a nonprofit organization called Iskali, was on Feb. 12 included on the list of Latinos 40 Under 40 Class of 2020, which recognizes the leadership of young Latinos in the Chicago metropolitan area.

The list is annually compiled by Negocios Now, a national publication based in Chicago. 

Iskali, the ministry Del Real founded, seeks to provide faith formation to young Latinos through retreats, community, formation opportunities, mentorship, and scholarships.

Del Real says he founded Iskali in response to shifting demographics among young Latinos away from a strong practice of the Catholic faith. According to 2014 Pew research, at least a quarter of U.S. Hispanics have left the Catholic Church, and of those, nearly half are now unaffiliated when it comes to religion. 

Other Pew studies suggest that only 16% of U.S. Hispanics say being Catholic is an essential part of Hispanic identity.

“Hispanic young people are the future of this country and seeing that many are losing their Catholic faith serves as a reminder to me of how important it is to live our baptismal call, and that we must take responsibility and initiative to do something about it,” Del Real said in comments to CNA. 

“We cannot stand [by] uselessly. There is an important urgency to which we have to respond... to go proclaim the gospel to young Hispanics that are U.S.-born.”

Del Real, the youngest of seven children, emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico with his family when he was 15. 

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After an awakening of his faith in his late teens, Del Real was inspired to create a ministry to nurture the faith of young Latinos who had been born in the United States. 

The name of the ministry, “Iskali,” comes from a Nahuatl (Aztec) word meaning “growth,” spoken by Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego. 

Del Real says many Latino children of immigrants growing up in the United States do not have the same rooted Catholic culture or devotions that their parents may have had, and thus it is important to nurture a “conviction” within young Latinos to live out their faith. 

Through its programs, Iskali tries to encourage Latino youth to seek a personal encounter with Jesus, and then take that faith and live it out in the context of small groups and their broader community. 

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"Receiving this recognition is of special importance, since the initiative for which I am recognized is inspired by my Catholic faith and my desire to share my faith with other young people,” Del Real continued. 

“The fact that the fruits and the impact of a project that seeks to bring the joy and hope of the gospel to Hispanic young people are being recognized by society, serves as a reminder to continue as there is much more work to be done.”

Del Real has often cited the inspiration of Pope Francis for his ministry, including the pope’s 2019 apostolic exhortation Christus Vivit

“For my part, I entrust myself to our mother Our Lady of Guadalupe, to continue guiding me and the Iskali community, to be able to fulfill our mission and to be able to reach more young people in the nets of the gospel," Del Real concluded. 

Most recently, Iskali has launched a scholarship program to encourage and support young Latinos as they pursue higher education, the group says. 

Del Real is a Romero Scholar at Catholic Theological Union where he is working towards his Masters in Divinity.

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