Vatican City, May 6, 2014 / 10:21 am
Thirty young men joined the ranks of the Swiss Guards today, taking an oath of allegiance to Pope Francis and promising to serve the Church by protecting him and all of his successors.
Addressing the new guards the day before their traditional swearing-in on May 6, the Pope explained that the event commemorates their predecessors, who "offered their lives to defend the Church."
"Your dedication," he noted, "confirms that their courage and loyalty have borne fruit."
In the San Damaso courtyard of the apostolic palace Tuesday the new members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard made their commitment like hundreds before them on the anniversary of the Sack of Rome.
Occurring May 6, 1527, the attack marks the most significant and deadliest event in the history of the guard. During the battle, 147 members lost their lives while fighting the army of the Holy Roman Empire in defense of Pope Clement VII, who was able to escape through a secret passageway leading from the Vatican to Castel Sant'Angelo, which sits on the Tiber River.
In his comments to the guards, Pope Francis observed how society today is different than it was then, "But man's heart, his capacity to be loyal and courageous…has remained the same."
"Serving in the Swiss Guard means living an experience that involves a meeting of time and space in a very particular way," he said. "With your special service, you are called upon to offer serene and joyful Christian witness to whoever arrives in the Vatican to visit St. Peter's Basilica and to meet the Pope."
"Live your days intensely! Be firm in your faith and generous in your charity towards the people you meet."
Remarking on how the colors of the Swiss Guard uniform – which also celebrates its 100 year anniversary this year – are known throughout the world, the Pope reflected that they "stand for dedication, seriousness and security. They are identified with singular service and a glorious past."
"However, behind every uniform there is a real person: with a family and a homeland, with a personality and sensibility, with wishes and plans in life," the pontiff went on to say, emphasizing that although the uniform attracts attention, "it is not the uniform, but rather he who wears it, who must be noted for his kindness, his spirit of welcome, for his charitable attitude towards all."
"Consider this also in your relations between yourselves, according importance, also in your community life, to sharing both joyful moments and those that are more difficult," the Pope said, stressing the importance of doing so "without ignoring those among you who are in difficulty."
For those who are in difficulty "and who are at times in need of a smile and a gesture of encouragement and friendship," the Pope encouraged them to "avoid that negative distance that divides companions and, in the lives of all people in the world, can give rise to disdain, marginalization and racism."
Present at the guards' swearing-in was a number of Vatican dignitaries, the new Swiss ambassador to the Holy See, Pierre-Yves Fux, and Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu, who is the Substitute for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State.
During the ceremony each new guard placed a hand on the official flag of the Swiss Guard, and with the other hand raised three fingers as a symbol of the Holy Trinity.
In addition to protecting the Pope, members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard are often will be called on to answer tourists' questions, perform ceremonial duties and to assist at Vatican events.
Speaking to CNA during a May 5 press conference detailing the preparations for the event, the Commander of the Swiss Guard, Colonel Daniel Anrig, explained that maintaining the tradition of new guards making their oaths on the anniversary of the Sack of Rome reminds them of their mission.
"The Swiss Guards had to protect Clement the Seventh and most of the Swiss Guards lost their lives," he noted. "That's the reason we are remembering the day," and "to also promise again to do the same in this way. To do the same as the soldiers have done in 1527."
Making an oath for the Pope "means to give him everything, meaning also your life when need be," the commander continued, "so it's a commitment, it's a strong commitment to do everything for the Holy Father."