Disbanded Palatine Guards serve Pope under new name
By David Kerr and Alan Holdren
Members of the youth group for the associaton and their leaders greet the Pope in the Vatican. Courtesy of the Association of Sts. Peter and Paul
Members of the youth group for the associaton and their leaders greet the Pope in the Vatican. Courtesy of the Association of Sts. Peter and Paul

.- The Vatican’s Palatine Guard was officially disolved in 1970, but its former members still serve the Pope today.

“We didn’t actually leave the Vatican at all because our faith and our faithfulness were unchanged,” said Antonio Martini, who joined the guards just after World War II.

When he decreed the dissolution of the Guard in 1970, Pope Paul VI created the Association of Saints Peter and Paul to replace it. This allowed the men to “work to carry on the good that the Palatine Guard had done for so many years,” Martini explained.

The Palatine Guard was formed in 1850 by Pope Pius IX and largely performed a ceremonial role during the Vatican’s major Church and State events.

The only time they actually saw active service was in 1870 when papal forces put up resistance to Italian government troops occupation of Rome.

Often made up of Roman shop keepers and office clerks, the Palatine Guard also bravely guarded Vatican property throughout the Nazi occupation during World War II.

“Certainly, there was displeasure when on September 15, 1970, the Palatine Guard was dissolved, but we did understand the reason for which was done,” Martini said.

“It was after the Second Vatican Council, things had changed, so this armed guard within the Church was no longer, I won’t say ‘necessary’ because perhaps it wasn’t necessary before either, but it was from a different time.”

In 1971, Pope Paul VI established the Association of St. Peter and Paul so that the “unique and exemplary characteristics of the Palatine Guard” would be “preserved, strengthened, adapted and developed.”

The association consists of lay Catholics who live in Rome and, according to its statutes, are “eager to offer a special witness of Christian life, apostleship and fidelity to the Apostolic See.”

“The association works in the fields of liturgy, culture and charity,” explained the association’s president, Calvino Gasparini.

“Perhaps the element it has always had in common with the foundation of the Guard in 1850 is its charitable role,” he said.

Members extend charity in a number of ways, including giving directions, information and advice to pilgrims and visiting priests, especially during big liturgical celebrations at St. Peter’s Basilica.

The groups also forms its members in the Christian faith. New recruits – many of them young – are given a “renaissance” education in spirituality, culture, charity, music and sport.

“As Christians, we all have to know our faith but we also have to live it,” says Monsignor Joseph Murphy, the chaplain for the association.

“So what we try to do is to show them that religion isn’t just a part of life that you reserve to one particular sector but is supposed to have an effect in one’s life as a whole.”

The steady flow of new recruits makes it likely that the association will be able to continue its service to the Pope and the Vatican for many years to come.

“We have existed for 150 years as the Palatine Guard and for 40 years as the association,” said Gasparini.

“We are not extinct and we continue on because of the young people who come in with that spirit that we Romans have always had – that of being faithful to the Apostolic See.”

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