Yesterday in the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI was on hand to celebrate 500 years of Swiss protection for the Holy See and for his own office as Pope.
He told a group of thousands gathered in St. Peter's Square, that "500 years ago, on January 22, 1506, Pope Julius II welcomed and blessed the first contingent of Swiss Guards, come to Rome to ensure the defense of his person and of the Apostolic Palace. Thus the Pontifical Swiss Guard was born.”
70 members of the Guard, all wearing full gala uniform, were present for the anniversary celebrations.
"In recalling that historic event,” the Holy Father said, “it is my pleasure today to greet the members of this blessed corps, upon whom, as a sign of appreciation and recognition, I impart my heartfelt apostolic blessing."
Prior to the Pope’s weekly Angelus prayer, Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano, who is also dean of the College of Cardinals, celebrated a Mass at the Vatican's Sistine Chapel to commence the 500th anniversary celebrations.
In his homily, the cardinal recalled the solemn vow that new recruits to the Swiss Guard make each year to "serve faithfully, loyally and honorably the Supreme Pontiff and his legitimate successors with all your strength, sacrificing, when necessary, even your lives in his defense."
He then recalled that fateful January 22nd, 500 years ago, when 150 Swiss Guards entered Rome to defend the See of Peter, quoting the Swiss Protestant reformer Ulrich Zwingli who, while he was still a member of the Catholic Church said, "The Swiss see the sad situation of the Church of God, Mother of Christianity, and realize how grave and dangerous it is that any tyrant, avid for wealth, can assault with impunity, the common Mother of Christianity."
"Even today," Cardinal Sodano said, "these words serve to remind the Swiss Guard of that higher inspiration which must stimulate their service as, with the eyes of faith, they see in each Roman Pontiff the principle of the visible unity of the Holy Church of God."
He closed his time with the guard by inviting them, in remembrance of this solemn anniversary, to have "ever greater love for the Church of Christ."