“It just starts with inviting our own friends, inviting them to community, inviting them to Mass and giving them that experience of what the faith really is,” he said.
Del Real is particularly excited about Iskali’s mentorship program, which seeks to support young Latinos as they head off to college, many of whom, like Vicente himself, are first-generation college students.
“I couldn't go to my parents with questions about scholarships, with questions about careers, because my dad went to second grade and my mom went to third grade,” he said.
“I feel that we are missing a support system since most of these Latinos that are registered into college are first generation. I feel that we are missing a support system for them to make it through college. So here at Iskali we provide a mentorship program... to provide mentors that can accompany those young Latinos that are first generation students through their years of college.”
“No one else is gonna do it better than they themselves”
Young Latinos face pretty much the same challenges to their faith that all young people do. The distractions of social media; trendy, secular influences from influencers, the media, and Hollywood; and occasionally a language barrier, though it may not be what you might have expected.
Already more than half of all Masses celebrated in the US are in Spanish, Del Real said. But, to reach young Latinos, particularly those born in the United States, it’s not as simple a matter as offering more Masses in Spanish.
“The challenge is that most of us younger Latinos prefer actually to speak in English. So when they go to a Spanish Mass, they might not even understand the priest,” he noted.
It presents a quandary. Young Latinos may understand the language better at a typical parish where the Masses are all in English, but there’s a cultural difference, in addition to a language difference.
Marcos Martinez, who works with Vicente, is one of many young Latinos who prefers to speak English, since it’s his native language— he was born in the US, but his parents emigrated from Mexico. Interestingly though, he says sometimes young Latinos who are first-generation Americans have had the faith passed down to them almost exclusively in Spanish.
“We speak English fluently, and it's sometimes our preferred language. But I also see that actually there's a lot of people in our communities who, who only know our faith in Spanish, who don't know certain Catholic prayers in English,” Martinez said.
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Including Latinos in the parish’s leadership and decision making, in order to find ways to make young Latinos feel included in each parish’s particular context, is a good start, he said.
Del Real said he wants to see more investment in young Latinos in the US; parishes putting their money where their mouths are, and actually trusting their young Latino members with leadership roles and resources.
“If we want to properly serve Latinos, no one else is gonna do it better than they themselves,” he said.
“We need to give them a space for them to bring their own ideas. A lot of these ideas that young people have are very innovative about how to present the Gospel.”
Martinez said trusting young people with leadership positions will help them become leaders not only in a Church context, but in life in general, helping them gain transferable skills that will benefit young people in the long run.
“We put the power in their hands and give them leadership roles to be able to go and honestly, to go and make mistakes sometimes, and to learn from them, to be the ones who are leading our communities...and being able to gain some of those skills and not even realize it, when it comes to public speaking, community organizing, event planning.”