Pope encourages new Swiss Guards to be saintly soldiers

Pope Benedict XVI encouraged the new class of recruits for the Swiss Guard to draw close to Christ as they embark on their roles as the pontiff's guardians.

“To give love to others it is necessary to draw upon the furnace of divine charity, thanks to prolonged periods of prayer, constant listening to the Word of God, and a whole life centered on the mystery of the Eucharist,” he said May 7.

“The secret of the effectiveness of your work here in the Vatican, as well as in all your projects is, therefore, the constant reference to Christ.”

Pope Benedict addressed the Corp of the Swiss Guard a day after they welcomed 26 new recruits. The newcomers' family and friends were also present for Monday’s papal audience in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace as well as representatives of the Swiss civil authorities.

In his remarks, the Pope told them to take advantage of their time spent in Rome in order “to develop your friendship with Christ, to increase your love for his Church and to advance towards the goal of each true Christian life: sanctity.”

The Pontifical Swiss Guard dates back to 1506, and new members can serve between 2 and 25 years defending the Vatican.

Recruits must be single male Swiss citizens, between the age of 19 and 30, who are practicing Catholics with a “good ethical moral background.” They must also have a professional degree or high school diploma and have attended a military college in Switzerland. The minimum height requirement is 174 centimeters or 5 feet, 7 inches. 

“It is heartening to see that young men choose to consecrate a number of years of their lives to helping Peter's Successor and his collaborators,” Pope Benedict told them.

“Your work is part of a tradition of unquestioned fidelity to the Pope, which became heroic sacrifice during the ‘Sack of Rome’ in 1527 when, on 6 May, your predecessors lost their lives,” he recalled.

On that occasion, 147 Swiss Guards were killed defending Pope Clement VII from the mutinous troops of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V.

Pope Benedict also identified the characteristics which “distinguish each member of the corps” as “steadfastness in the Catholic faith, loyalty and love towards the Church of Jesus Christ, diligence and perseverance in the small and large daily tasks, courage and humility, selflessness and availability.”

“These virtues,” he said, “must be filled your heart when you give the service of honor and security in the Vatican.”

On May 6, new members took their oath in the Paul VI Hall in the presence of the Vatican’s Deputy Secretary of State, Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu. In turn each man clasped the flag of the Swiss Guard, raised a three finger salute in honor of the Holy Trinity and promised to defend Pope Benedict and his successors “sacrificing if necessary also my life.”

Earlier in the day, the guards had attended a special Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica offered by the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. Both deacons assisting Cardinal Bertone at the altar were former Swiss Guards.

“I thank God, the source of all goodness, for the various gifts and missions He gives you,” Pope Benedict added, “and I pray that you too, as you begin your service, may respond to the call of Christ, following Him with faithful generosity.”

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