Jesuit Father Harold Rahm learned long ago the value of staying close to the people.
In El Paso, his first assignment in his native Texas, Fr. Rahm celebrated Mass in people’s backyards. He prayed the rosary on street corners and ministered to those on bread lines. He got his foot in the door of residents’ homes by asking to use the phone. And, he rode a bicycle to talk and play with street kids in his battle to eliminate youth gangs.
During his 14 years in El Paso, Fr. Rahm was fondly known as the “Bicycle Padre,” and says he learned to work with the people and the laity. South El Paso was ruled by gangs in those days, so he and his team worked with schools, founded clubs, and built a youth center. They engaged adolescents in sports, music, bands and theater, offering free lunches and daily ice cream. As the teens grew up, he said, they did not join the gangs.
Over the last nearly 50 years, Father Rahm used similar techniques to reach out to the abandoned, the poor, the addicted and the desperate of Brazil, where he lives and works today.
Fr. Rahm, now 93, spends his days directing “Christian Yoga” retreats aimed at helping people use their senses and meditation to form a union with God.
“I endeavor to do my little part to serve the poor and those especially in need, both financially and spiritually,” he said.
When Fr. Rahm arrived in Brazil, he set out to find priests and scholastics to staff the Centro Kennedy mission in São Paulo, which worked to improve lives through education and human development. He and his team worked with alcoholics and drug addicts and founded Amor-Exigente or Tough Love, which now has 10,000 volunteers serving 200,000 people each month throughout Latin America.
Today, a center in his name in Campinas, Brazil, Instituçào Padre Haroldo, offers several programs for the therapeutic treatment of alcoholics and drug addicts. He said the treatment involves learning new values, behaviors, skills, habits and responsibilities in order to integrate back into society.
He also started the Pastoral Sobriety, the search for sobriety as a way of life, and has ministered to prostitutes and street children.
“I would like to stress that I only founded these movements,” Fr. Rahm said. “It is evident that the wonderful Brazilian people and leaders direct and work in them. I personally should not receive the credit. “
Fr. Rahm has written books on spirituality, addiction and his experience with gangs. For more information on the Instituçào Padre Haroldo, visit www.padreharoldo.org.br.