September 23, 2022

Iskali groups are ‘beginning of something great’ for Hispanic young adult Catholics

(En español)

Saul Llasca, archdiocesan coordinator of Hispanic Ministry, addresses participants at the Iskali retreat on Aug. 28 at the Benedict Inn Retreat and Conference Center in Beech Grove. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Saul Llasca, archdiocesan coordinator of Hispanic Ministry, addresses participants at the Iskali retreat on Aug. 28 at the Benedict Inn Retreat and Conference Center in Beech Grove. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

BEECH GROVE—Reaching out to Latino young adult Catholics is part of Saul Llacsa’s job as archdiocesan coordinator of Hispanic Ministry.

But as an Hispanic young adult himself, he sees such outreach as more than a job responsibility. He understands at a personal level their desperate need for God and community.

“There are addictions and family issues” for this demographic, says Llacsa. “There are issues unique to them that they have to deal with because they walk in two realities—the English culture outside their homes, and the Hispanic culture inside their homes.

“They need to talk about what they see, how they feel. They need a community where they can recognize who they are, what role God plays in their lives and how they can encounter God in their reality.”

Llacsa recently created the opportunity for just such communities in central and southern Indiana.

He brought to the archdiocese a Chicago-based ministry called Iskali, an organization dedicated to gathering young Hispanic adult Catholics—single or married—into small, parish-based groups where they can share their experiences, delve into Scripture and grow together in love of God.

The introduction came on Aug. 26-28. That weekend, nearly 30 Hispanic Catholics, ages 18-35, participated in an Iskali retreat at the Benedict Inn Retreat and Conference Center in Beech Grove.

“They came in nervous, unaware of what they were about to experience,” says Iskali’s Stephanie Barrera, who coordinated the retreat. “On the last day, they completely transformed into a family.”

‘Growth, resurgence and new beginning’

Twelve years ago, a 20-year-old Catholic looked around and discovered an absence.

“I noticed that a lot of the people that were in the young adult group at my parish were all gone,” said Vicente Del Real, founder and director of Iskali. “They had no commitment to the Church. I wanted to change that.”

So, in 2010 he created Iskali, a non-profit organization dedicated to evangelizing Hispanic young adults “where most feel as though they do not belong in the Church and that there is a lack of ministry directed toward them,” the organization’s website explains.

The website notes that “Iskali” is an Aztec word “which translates to growth, resurgence and new beginning. With this name, we want to capture the essence of our mission to renew the spirit of young people, as well as evoke pride in our rich cultural heritage.”

“We hope that we can also communicate to this generation that God loves them, that they matter, that they are beloved and that there’s hope,” says Del Real. “In hard times, there’s always hope.

“This first step is for them to have a personal encounter with God, with Jesus. That is the goal of this retreat.”

‘It was very powerful’

During the retreat, re-enactments depicting relatable, real-life issues and challenges faced by Hispanic young adults serve as opportunities for them to reflect on their own experiences and to bring God into the picture.

“It was very raw, very holy, very deep,” says 21-year-old participant Jennifer Garza, a member of

St. Anthony Parish in Indianapolis. “Very spiritual in the sense that you don’t even know that you have these feelings, that you could even need to heal in these certain types of places and aspects.”

Chris Perez, 24, attended his first Iskali retreat in Chicago earlier in the summer, so he knew what to expect.

“The themes that they hit on, they can really slap you in the face,” says the member of St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis. “A lot of my other friends experienced that on this retreat. I could definitely see it was very powerful.”

The retreat provided several prayer opportunities for participants to “encounter God in their reality.”

“We had a lot of adoration time,” says Garza. “That was definitely my favorite part [of the retreat], just getting that one-on-one time with Jesus. As a college student, I really don’t have much one-on one time with Jesus because I’m studying, working.”

The retreat impacted 22-year-old Aurora Carlos on many levels.

“I’ve been in a time where I’m doubting my faith and just having a lot of ups and downs with my faith, especially with society being so different in values,” says Carlos, who is also a member of St. Anthony. “Going to college and going through all these challenges and temptations, my faith got really tested.

“And there were a lot of times through the obstacles and testings that I felt so alone.”

But Carlos says the Iskali retreat “definitely made my faith stronger and rebuilt that relationship with God that I so needed and wanted. We learned that the Catholic Church is built on community. This retreat made me realize I am not alone.”

‘The beginning of something great’

Nor will Carlos be alone going forward.

“After the retreat, the hope is that [the participants] will go back to their parish and form small communities” of no more than 15 members each, Del Real explains.

Llacsa notes that multiple communities can exist in a parish if more than 15 people are interested.

The groups meet weekly to read and discuss Scripture, to share their encounters with God and to encourage each other in their faith.

“The small community is a place where they can share authentic acceptance and friendship, and also a place where they can share the good news, the joy of the Gospel,” Del Real explains. “It’s a place where every week they can teach each other, walk with each other, lift each other, and hopefully reach a point that they can help other parishes form Iskali groups.”

Iskali communities “are not in competition with parishes,” Llacsa notes.

“The role of the [archdiocesan] Hispanic Ministry is to provide tools to help parishes thrive in their ministry.

“We brought Iskali as a way for parishes to welcome Hispanic young adults and connect with them and work with them. The goal is for Iskali groups to live their faith by becoming more involved in their parish.”

After the August retreat, Iskali communities were founded at St. Anthony and St. Lawrence, as well as St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis.

Llacsa used the St. Anthony group as an example of how an Iskali community could work.

“They meet weekly, with the first two meetings all about formation,” he explains. “The next week they use for something social, like going out to dinner. The fourth week they open up the session for people in the parish community to learn what they do, how they work.”

Each community can develop their own weekly format, “but with the same spirit of forming themselves as human beings and children of God,” Llacsa adds.

He estimates that the St. Lawrence group has 10-12 participants, St. Anthony has seven and St. Monica has almost 10.

If these and any new communities grow and flourish, more retreats will be offered in the archdiocese—“at least one per year,” he says, noting that Iskali offers other retreats on topics such as discipleship and mission.

“I think this is the beginning of something great for the archdiocese,” says Llacsa. “It’s a fresh opportunity for young Hispanic adults to participate in the life of the Church.”
 

(For more information about Iskali communities, contact Saul Llacsa at 347-997-2474 or Chris Peres at 317-728-8931 or chrisp14193@gmail.com. For more information about Iskali, go to www.iskali.org.)

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