Hispanics are one of the fastest-growing demographic groups in the United States, but they are also leaving the Catholic Church at the fastest rate, says the founder of an outreach group to young Latinos. 

Vicente Del Real, the founder of Iskali, is setting out to address that very issue. 

“I believe young Latinos are leaving the church, not because they want to, but because we are not reaching out to them,” he said. 

Del Real founded Iskali – an Aztec word for growth and resurgence – as a Catholic young adult group when he was 20. After seven years he turned it into a non-profit evangelization effort to form and encourage young Latino people in the Catholic faith.

The ministry caught the eye of Catholic leaders interested in investing in the future of the Church. Iskali is now on the verge of expanding, thanks to a partnership with the University of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life and a $1.5 million grant from the Lilly Endowment.

The grant will connect Iskali to McGrath’s Young Adult Innovation Hub, part of its Thriving in Ministry initiative, to strengthen Hispanic Catholic communities at the parish level.

The McGrath Institute collaborates with Catholic dioceses, parishes, and schools in providing evangelical tools and spiritual formation. The grant will support a partnership between McGrath and Iskali in twelve parishes around the country.

“We are going to have some of the best theologians in the country forming young Latinos, which I think is powerful,” Del Real, 33, told CNA. 

The ministry’s model for evangelization involves relationship-building in small groups of 7-12 Hispanic young adults. A young adult doesn’t have to be Latino in order to join an Iskali group. Although Hispanics are the target group, he said.

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Iskali has a presence on two college campuses and approximately 20 parishes in the Chicago suburbs. It also has outreach programs in Milwaukee and Indianapolis.

Del Real said that the generation of Latinos whose parents were immigrants or first-generation Americans feel comfortable with the Hispanic culture. However, the next generation of Hispanic children living in the United States shares both American culture and Hispanic culture, which puts them “in the middle,” Del Real said. 

And that’s the demographic that needs to be reached, he said, adding that the Church is “missing” these young adults.

“That's the future of the priesthood. That's the future of vocations. That’s the future of lay ministry. That’s the future of college ministry, you know, and I think there is a big urgency to reach out to them,” he said. 

Vicente Del Real, founder of Iskali
Vicente Del Real, founder of Iskali

Del Real said he has been getting calls from dioceses almost every week asking if he can bring Iskali to their parishes.

In the past, Iskali didn’t have the resources to meet such a demand. But with its new partnership with the University of Notre Dame, Iskali may be on the cusp of meeting that demand. One of the goals Del Real said he has for the initiative is to create a model where young adults can start an Iskali group in their parishes.

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“With this grant, we're going to create a process so people can have a place to go get trained in our model,” he said. He added that he hopes to implement the first training by the summer of 2023.

Iskali will have access to training and resources from the McGrath Institute’s Science and Religion Initiative, which develops the communications skills of educators speaking about faith and reason, and science and religion, Maggie Scroope, program director of communications for the McGrath Institute told CNA. 

The McGrath Institute will provide a 12-part video series called “Into Life,” in addition to other pastoral resources that were created in partnership with the Sisters of Life and the Institute’s Life and Human Dignity program, Scroope said. 

Del Real said that is excited about the chance to reach more young adult Latinos.

“This is just a great opportunity for us to sustain the work that we are already doing,” Del Real said.

“But also think about how we can reach out to more people and help more parishes reach out to young Latinos and that may or may not be in their pews,” he said.