The Vatican saw an unusual sight this morning as 33 new Swiss guards, their family members and fellow corps members trooped into the audience chamber of the Holy Father to receive his words of inspiration. Benedict XVI thanked the attentive guards for showing their love of the Catholic faith through their service and told them that the Corps "is also a school of life."
The encounter with the Pope comes as the new guardsmen prepare to take the oath of allegiance tomorrow at 5 p.m. in the San Damaso Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace.
In his talk to them, delivered in German, French and Italian, the Pope pointed out how, five centuries after the foundation of the Corps, "the spirit of faith remains unchanged which encourages young Swiss to leave their beautiful land to come and serve the Pope in the Vatican. The love for the Catholic Church remains the same", he said, "to which you bear witness, rather than with words, with your bodies which, thanks to the characteristic uniforms, are easily recognizable at the entrance to the Vatican and to pontifical audiences. Your historic uniforms speak ... of your commitment to serve God by serving the 'servant of His servants'."
The Swiss Guard, the Pontiff said, offers the soldiers the chance to cultivate this impulse of service to the faith. He also reminded them to take advantage of “the crucial presence of your chaplain. Be open, straightforward and loyal.”
The guardsmen must go beyond the external appearance of their uniformity, the Holy Father added. Instead the guards must learn to “appreciate the differences of personality and character that exist among you… because each one is a unique and irreplaceable person called by God to serve His Kingdom of love and peace," he said.
The Swiss Guard, said the Pope, "is also a school of life", and he explained to the recruits how during their time at the Vatican "many of your predecessors were able to discover their own vocation: to Christian marriage, to the priesthood, to consecrated life. This is a reason to praise God, but also to appreciate your Corps".
Benedict XVI parted with the guardsmen and their families by thanking all members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard for the "generosity and dedication with which you work in the service of the Pope. May the Lord reward you and fill you with abundant heavenly fruits".
The Pontifical Swiss Guard was founded by Pope Julius II in 1506 as a stable corps, directly dependant on the Holy See. Its main duties were to guard the person of the Roman Pontiff and the Apostolic Palaces.