Thirty-four new Swiss Guards were sworn in Thursday in an elaborate ceremony in Vatican City in which the guards promised to protect the pope, even “sacrificing if necessary also my own life.”
Gian Andrea Bossi, a 20-year-old from Davos, Switzerland, was among the new Swiss Guards to take the oath on May 6.
“It is a great honor for me, for all of us. … We’ve prepared for weeks, for months for this day,” Bossi told EWTN News.
“I’ve always wanted to serve God in a way, and I wanted to serve the Catholic Church,” he said.
The swearing-in ceremony for one of the world’s oldest standing armies took place on the 494th anniversary of the Sack of Rome, the battle on May 6, 1527, in which 147 Swiss Guards lost their lives defending Pope Clement VII from mutinous troops of the Holy Roman Empire.
The ceremony began with three Swiss Guards blowing trumpets from the loggia, and then the guards marched to the sound of drums in a solemn procession.
Due to coronavirus restrictions, only the families of the guards and the press were allowed to attend the ceremony held in Vatican City’s San Damaso Courtyard. In 2020, at least 13 Swiss Guards tested positive for COVID-19.
As part of the schedule this year, the family members of the new guards prayed Vespers on the evening of May 5 in the church of Santa Maria della Pietà in the Vatican’s Teutonic College. Later, the “deposition of the crown” ceremony took place in commemoration of the guards who died during the Sack of Rome.
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin also offered Mass with the Swiss Guards in St. Peter’s Basilica in the morning ahead of the swearing-in ceremony.
Gérald Crettaz, the father of one of the new Swiss Guards, 23-year-old Baptiste Crettaz, said that he was very proud of his son for taking the oath.
“In our current world, where everyone is quite selfish and self-centered, my son is committed to something bigger, something wider that doesn’t belong to him, but to everyone. I think it is fantastic and it is so generous,” Crettaz said.
During the ceremony itself, each new recruit approached the flag of the Swiss Guard as his name was called out. Firmly grasping the banner with his left hand, the new guard raised his right hand and opened three fingers as a sign of his faith in the Holy Trinity.
While holding up his fingers, the guard said aloud: “I, (name), swear diligently and faithfully to abide by all that has just been read out to me, so grant me God and so help me his saints.”
In English, the full oath reads: “I swear I will faithfully, loyally and honorably serve the Supreme Pontiff Francis and his legitimate successors, and also dedicate myself to them with all my strength, sacrificing if necessary also my life to defend them. I assume this same commitment with regard to the Sacred College of Cardinals whenever the see is vacant. Furthermore, I promise to the Commanding Captain and my other superiors respect, fidelity, and obedience. This I swear! May God and our Holy Patrons assist me!”
Swiss Guards -- known for their colorful striped Renaissance-era uniforms -- are responsible for Vatican security together with the Vatican gendarmes. The Vatican military was established by Pope Julius II in 1506.
Candidates for the Pontifical Swiss Guard are required to meet strict requirements. Each recruit must be a Catholic unmarried male at least 5 feet, 8 inches tall and between the ages of 19 and 30. Swiss citizenship is required, as is a letter of good standing from the candidate’s parish priest.
“It is something that only we, Swiss people, can do, and it is important to show that there still are young people ready to be committed to promote some values,” new Swiss Guard Baptiste Crettaz said.
“The fact that we are ready to give up our life for the Holy Father represents a strong meaning,” he said.
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The Vatican approved an expansion of the size of the Pontifical Swiss Guards three years ago from 110 to 135 men. Despite the new recruits, it remains the smallest army in the world.
“I am excited to see the Vatican, to get to know the pope … also to be closer to the Church, to the faith, to grow in the faith,” Bossi said.
“In the end it is to serve God, to serve the Church, to protect the faith and defend the pope,” he said.
Pope Francis received the new Swiss Guards in the Vatican Apostolic Palace ahead of the ceremony. The pope recalled that some former guards had discerned the priesthood after their service, while others went on to form their own families.
“I pray that those who begin their service now may also respond fully to Christ’s call, following him with faithful generosity,” he said.
“May these years that you will spend here be an occasion for a deepening of your faith and an even stronger love for the Church. I accompany you with my prayers and I thank you for choosing to make a few years of your life available to the Successor of Peter.”
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.
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