"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 that attending the general audience and meeting Pope Francis was an emotional experience, not just for him but for his team as well. Asked what he hopes his team will take away from the experience, he said just that "the relationship with God is a personal one."
He said his suggestion for each of his players would be to spend time in silence and think and pray "about what it means, and what they should take away from it."
"Because we don't always know what to do with it," he continued. "I don't know what to do with the encounter I had meeting Pope Francis today. What exactly did it mean? What opportunity was given and what am I supposed to do with that?"
Immediately afterward, Harbaugh said he was able to speak with a priest from Detroit, Msgr. Robert McClory, about the experience: "And that was the advice that he gave me: to be silent, to pray, to be with God and listen, and you'll get it, you'll figure it out."
Two players had the opportunity to get a little bit closer to the Pope during the audience, which Harbaugh chose through an essay competition. The winners, offensive lineman Grant Newsome and defensive tackle Salim Makki, both said they are inspired by Francis.
Attending the audience "was just an incredible experience," Newsome said.
"Not only as a Christian, but as a person in general, just to listen to someone who is so internationally renowned as Pope Francis and to hear him and have him bless us was just an incredible experience for me and I know for a lot of the other guys on the team."
Makki, a Muslim, said he looks up to Pope Francis as a hero. "He's always shown that Muslims and Christians and Catholics can combine – we're all brothers and sisters, we can co-exist together."
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Jack Wangler, a senior wide receiver told CNA, "I can speak for everybody, I think: this has been a once-in-a-lifetime trip."
"It's been great to come here with the team and use it as a bonding experience and a cultural experience, to expand what we've learned in the classroom," said Catholic fullback Joe Beneducci.
He told CNA that he remembers reading about the Church and the Vatican at school and watching St. John Paul II's funeral on TV. "Coming here to see it in person, it put it all in perspective and made me appreciate it just that much more."
"I think it's brought me closer to my faith as well, which is very nice."
About the qualities of a good sportsman, Harbaugh said, "It talks about it in the Bible: strive hard to win the prize. To have that motivation, to have that quality of perseverance and discipline and drive is what really makes a good athlete."
Sunday, before they leave to return to Michigan, Harbaugh's infant son, John Paul, will be baptized at St. Peter's Basilica. His daughter, Addison, will also make her first Holy Communion.