On Jan. 22 at the Vatican, the Swiss Guard commemorated more than five centuries of being the Pope's sworn protectors. Corporal Urs Breitenmoser of the Swiss Guard called the celebration a “historic moment of maximum importance for us” in remarks to CNA about the event.
In 1506, on the same day of the year, 150 Swiss soldiers first entered the Vatican by request of then-Pope Julius II to form the Pontifical Swiss Guard. The group has remained present to this day and is now the oldest standing army in the world.
The 505th anniversary of the Pontifical Swiss Guard was marked on Saturday evening with a solemn Mass followed by a once-a-year procession across St. Peter's Square and a banquet in their Vatican quarters.
It was an intimate affair, with few outsiders joining the representation of around 40 guards at Mass within the Vatican walls in the chapel of the Teutonic College. The strong voices of a handful of guards filled the small church of Santa Maria della Pieta in Campo Santo with chant.
During the celebration, the guard made the traditional salute of the altar as visible sign of their oath of "honor and fidelity."
Archbishop Ferdinando Filoni, a high-ranking official in the Vatican's secretariat of state, presided over the celebration. He told them that just as fishermen were entrusted with a mission from the Lord as his first disciples, all people are invited to follow Him and are entrusted with a particular task.
"For this reason," the archbishop told them, "by serving the Holy Father, in a special way, you participate in the universal mission of the Church." He concluded the homily with a prayer that the guards would have a "renewed impetus" towards fidelity and service.
The 110 guards who currently form the exclusive squad are responsible for guarding entrances to the Vatican and the entire papal residence. In collaboration with other Vatican security forces, they ensure the Pope's personal safety anywhere he might go.
At the conclusion of Mass, the group processed out of the Vatican's Arch of the Bells in marching formation. A pair of drummers set the cadence and a modest-sized band played a march to which they crossed St. Peter's Square.
They passed fellow guards on their way in the "Porta Santa Anna" gate to hear a final discourse from their commandant before a banquet dinner.
Corporal Urs Breitenmoser explained to CNA that the march across the square is how they give homage to those who came before them. In this way, he said, "we wish to remember today this historic moment of maximum importance for us."
The next major moment for the Guard will be celebrated on May 6, when they honor the 147 colleagues who died defending Pope Clement VII in 1527. The day takes on added importance with the swearing in of the year's new recruits to "fidelity" to the pontiff for a minimum of 25 months of service.