.- As the Pontifical Swiss Guard--the longest standing army in the world--continues to celebrate 500 years of service to the Pope and the Church, Pope Benedict celebrated Mass on Saturday thanking both past and present Guard members for the dedication of their lives.
Civil and military authorities from Switzerland as well as other countries were on hand at St. Peter’s Basilica for the ceremony, where they joined relatives, friends of the Guard and military chaplains.
During his homily, the Holy Father discussed the readings--taken from the Book of Wisdom and St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. He said that "whoever, fascinated by wisdom, seeks and finds it in Christ, leaves everything for Him, receiving in exchange the priceless gift of the Kingdom of God; and, clothed in temperance, prudence, justice and strength (the 'cardinal' virtues), he lives his witness of charity within the Church."
He likened this vision to the Pontifical Swiss Guard who, "motivated by love for Christ and the Church, put themselves at the service of Peter's Successor."
Benedict expressed his gratitude both for those members of the Guard who had signed on for a limited time, as well as others who decided to serve for their whole lives. He expressed his joy for those whose service in the Vatican had "brought them to mature a response to a priestly or religious vocation."
"Nonetheless,” he continued, “for everyone, being Swiss Guards means an unreserved adherence to Christ and to the Church, and a readiness to give one's life. Actual service may cease, but in your hearts you always remain Swiss Guards.”
Here the Pope commended the “nearly 80 former Guards who, from April 7 to May 4, made the extraordinary march from Switzerland to Rome, mainly following the old pilgrim route of the Via Francigena."
Inviting his listeners to be nourished by the Eucharist, he encouraged them, above all else, to be "men of prayer, that divine wisdom may make you true friends of God and servants of His Kingdom of love and peace.”
“It is in the sacrifice of Christ”, he said, “that the service of your long line of predecessors over these 500 years acquires completeness of meaning and value."