An interview with former Swiss Guard Joseph Schmidt, was released this week in which he addressed the meaning behind his 15 years of service in the mid-20th century. Schmidt, who also highlighted the history of the office, died the same day the interview aired.
The television news agency, Rome Reports, released the "Farewell to a Swiss Guard who served three popes: his last interview" on Wednesday, the day Joseph Schmidt died.
In the interview, he explained that the Swiss Guard was formed in 1506 by 189 soldiers sent by the Swiss government to Rome to protect Pope Julius II when he left the Vatican premises. As the video's narrator pointed out, they have been there ever since.
Schmidt himself served among their ranks for 15 years. He explained that, "For almost 8 years, I served Pius XII, then John XXIII and in the later years it was Paul VI.” Schmidt was made lieutenant by the time of his discharge.
Highlighting the major duties of the Swiss Guard in service to the Pope, he detailed that “First of all, they have to guard the Pope’s apartment, night and day. Secondly, they have to perform ‘extraordinary services’ which are private and public audiences with the pope."
According to the guards' website, little has changed in 500 years: "Changes are subject to the ways in which the mission is accomplished, the people, the guardsmen who are called upon and ... the environment in which they move."
One change, recalled Schmidt, is that back when he served, the longest trip the Pope ever took was to his summer villa at Castel Gandolfo.
Putting that information in perspective, Pope Benedict XVI, at 83 years of age, has already taken airplanes to Cyprus, Malta and Turin this year and is scheduled to travel to the U.K. and Spain yet this fall. His July 4 trip to Sulmona, Italy alone, at just over 100 miles from Rome, takes on another significance in that light.
Speaking of the personal experiences of the guards, who must be Catholic to enter into the Pope's service, Schmidt said that some still have complete conversions.
"Guarding the Vicar of Christ is something priceless,” he said.
“All of us have trained in the Swiss army, which is no walk in the park. Plus, in the Swiss Guard, there’s a different tone; the training and discipline are very rigorous, but naturally in a healthy way.”
In a show of their strength and solidarity, on May 6 of next year, 700 Swiss Guards will arrive in the Vatican having marched from Switzerland, more than 400 miles to the north, according to Rome Reports. On that day in 1527, nearly 150 guards were killed in the "Sack of Rome" as they defended Pope Clement VII.
May 6 is also the day that new guards are sworn into the service of the Pope.