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Catholic football coach meets Pope Francis

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Jim Harbaugh: My priorities are 'faith, then family, then football'
By Hannah Brockhaus

VATICAN CITY (CNA)

Photo: Jim Harbaugh meets Pope Francis in Vatican City April 26 and presents him with a University of Michigan helmet and pair of cleats. (L'Osservatore Romano)

Former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh says faith plays a major role in his life.

“The role (faith) plays in my life is in the priorities I have,” said the Roman Catholic head coach for the University of Michigan football team. “Faith, then family, then football.”

Coach Harbaugh spoke to CNA following a general audience with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square April 26. He and his wife Sarah greeted the Pope following the audience and presented him with a gift from the team – a University of Michigan helmet and pair of cleats.

The helmet included both the Italian and American flags and a little cross by the chinstrap. The Pope gave Harbaugh “some marching orders,” the coach said, “he told me to pray for him.”

Following the encounter, Harbaugh and his family and the University of Michigan football team were hosted for lunch on the terrace of the EWTN Rome bureau offices. After lunch they held a brief press conference.

Harbaugh, 53, has been head football coach for the University of Michigan since 2015. He played college football at Michigan from 1983-1986 and played in the National Football League (NFL) for 14 seasons from 1987-2000. He has seven children.

Speaking to CNA about his experience, Harbaugh quoted his father-in-law, Merrill Feuerborn, who told him, “To live in a state of grace, put your trust in the Lord, and be not afraid. When I met Pope Francis today, I was riding on a state of grace,” he said. “That feeling was beyond description. And I know there's something I'm supposed to do with that opportunity, with that encounter, of meeting the Holy Father. I'm going to pray about it.”

Harbaugh was in Rome April 22-30. Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, he brought his family and almost his entire team and staff—some 150 people—to Rome for a week of team-building, cultural experiences, historical touring, and of course, spring practices.

He said the aim of this trip was to have an educational experience like none other.

“Not all learning is done in a classroom or on a football field, you know? It's out connecting to people, and having a chance for our players and staff to see things they've never seen before, eat things they’ve never tasted, to hear a language they've never heard.”

One goal for the trip was to connect his team with people they otherwise might not have met, he said. Their first day in Rome, the group met and picnicked with a group of refugees, including several from Syria.

Later on Wednesday, Harbaugh and some members of the team and his family visited the SOS Children’s Village, a community made up of homes for children who are in positions of family or social hardship.

Harbaugh said attending the general audience and meeting Pope Francis was an emotional experience, not just for him but for his team as well.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 May 2017 11:17  

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