Vatican City, May 6, 2015 / 15:06 pm
On Wednesday 32 new Swiss Guards swore an oath of allegiance to Pope Francis, who told them their role is one of courageously imitating Christ which ought to be rooted in prayer.
In an audience with the new guards and their families earlier in the week, Pope Francis said it was an occasion "to nurture a meaningful friendship, because you work so close to me."
The friendship of the Pontifical Swiss Guard is special, he said, because it is based on "the love of Christ: that greatest love he referred to when he said: 'There is no love greater than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.'"
Pope Francis made his comments to the new guards in a Monday audience ahead of their May 6 swearing in ceremony, during which they took an oath of allegiance to Pope Francis, swearing to serve the Church by protecting him and all of his successors.
With a motto of "Courage and Loyalty," the Pontifical Swiss Guard is the oldest standing army in the world.
The official swearing-in ceremony took place Wednesday in the San Damaso courtyard of the apostolic palace, where the new members of the Guard made their commitment like hundreds before them on the anniversary of the Sack of Rome.
May 6, 1527, is a date that marks the most significant and deadliest event in the history of the guard.
In the course of 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 new guards, Pope Francis noted how God has chosen to build his kingdom in collaboration with men, saying that he needs "willing and courageous people" to do it.
He also stressed the importance of frequenting the sacraments in the life of a Swiss Guard, saying that "Christ is the true king. He himself goes forward, and his friends follow him. A soldier of Christ participates in the life of his Lord."
Swiss Guards are called to be companions of Christ and to learn how to "feel with Christ and the Church," he said, and encouraged them to step-up their prayer life by reading scripture and praying the rosary.
"What I tell everyone, I'll tell you too: always keep a small Gospel close at hand, read it as soon as you have a calm moment. It will help you in your personal prayer, especially the Rosary, during the honor guard," he said.
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin presided over a special Mass for the new guards in St. Peter's Basilica just a few hours before their official May 6 swearing in.
In his homily, the cardinal reminded the guards that their task is not a mere job or profession, but a vocation they are called to live out in a time marked by "anxiety and lack of guidance" in which commitment and loyalty seem "to become secondary or particularly difficult to achieve."
Cardinal Parolin recalled the death of the fallen guards during the Sack of Rome, noting that their heroic sacrifice constitutes the most "meaningful and emotional" moment of each guard, who on the battle's anniversary vows to serve the Successor of Peter "with all of his strength."
To have Mass before swearing their oaths serves as an act of thanksgiving and trust in the Lord, he said, "knowing that it's God who enkindles in us the will and the work (because) in him every good work has it's beginning and it's end."
During the swearing-in ceremony each, new guard approaches the flag off the Swiss Guard when his name is called out.
Firmly grasping the banner with his left hand, the new guard raises his right hand opens three fingers as a symbol of his faith in the Holy Trinity.
After making the gesture, the guard proclaims the oath, saying: "I, (name of the new guard), 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."
Patron saints of the Swiss Guard include St. Martin, St. Sebastian and St. Nicholas of Flue, known as the "Defensor Pacis et pater patriae."