NFL coach teaches faith, football to Peruvian kids

Piura, Peru, Jun 27, 2013 / 11:15 am (CNA).- Jim Harbaugh, coach of the San Francisco 49ers, recently completed a one-week mission trip to Piura, Peru, where he taught poor children about their Catholic faith and American football.

This is the fifth consecutive year that Harbaugh – whose team made it to the 2013 Super Bowl before losing to the Baltimore Ravens, coached by Harbaugh’s older brother – has volunteered at the Peruvian parish of Santísimo Sacramento, which means Most Holy Sacrament.

The parish's pastor is Fr. Joseph William Uhen, an Oklahoma native serving in the Archdiocese of Piura. Harbaugh has been volunteering with Fr. Uhen since his time coaching at Stanford University.

This year, Harbaugh lead a group of Californian missionaries who helped build houses, visit the poor, the elderly and those jailed at the Río Seco prison, and successfully teach football to kids in a country dominated overwhelmingly by soccer.

“Jim’s not a big vacation guy, but he’s never going to miss this trip to Peru,” said John Feuerborn, the coach's brother-in-law, who accompanied him on the recent trip. “It’s a different side of him people don’t see.”

Harbaugh has been a supporter of the Family to Family Program, created by Fr. Uhen to help some 1400 Peruvian families receive monthly support from their “Padrinos,” or Sponsor Families. Each month, the Padrinos donate $25 to give their Peruvian families the food they need.

“A relationship of faith, hope, and prayer is established and occasional letters and photos are interchanged,” Fr. Uhen explained.

“This charity provides more than bodily nourishment, it provides hope and affirmation that they are indeed loved and worthy of being cared for,” he said.

According to Harbaugh, his trips to Piura are some of “the best experiences of my life.”

“My experience in Piura is a great spiritual time for me,” he said. “I feel God's presence with the people of Piura…the children, the farmers, and the sick.”

“Teaching American football to the kids gave me overwhelming joy and happiness, and Father Joe's sermons move me each and every Mass and give me inspiration to live life abundantly and that things are possible through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

The Archbishop of Piura, Jose Antonio Eguren, presided at a Mass on Super Bowl Sunday this year for players and coaches of the 49ers in New Orleans.

“At the end of the very emotional Mass, just a few hours before the Super Bowl game, Jim told the players and his assistants: 'if you really want to have a life changing experience, go to Piura, visit the Archdiocese and the parish of Santísimo Sacramento,'" Archbishop Eguren told CNA.

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