Pope Francis urges Swiss Guard to witness to the joy of faith

Swiss Guards Credit Marina Testino CNA Swiss Guards. | Marina Testino/CNA.

Pope Francis encouraged the Swiss Guard Saturday to use their work, and the encounters they have in and around Vatican City, to be witnesses of faith, joy, and God's love.

"During your stay in Rome, you are called to witness to your faith with joy, so that the many people you meet, especially at the entrances to Vatican City, can be favorably impressed by the spirit in which you do your work," the pope said May 4.

"I ask each of you this," he continued. "Make sure that those you meet in your daily service, members of the Curia, work colleagues in various areas of the Vatican, pilgrims or tourists, can also discover through you the love of God for every man. This is the first mission of every Christian!"

Pope Francis spoke to the guards a few days ahead of the formal ceremony for the swearing-in of new guards, which takes place every year on May 6. This year there are 23 recruits who will take the oath to protect and defend the pope.

In their meeting, Francis noted the inevitable challenges the guards face in their work, which is why, he said, they need the support of a strong faith – and even more so because people expect to see "total dedication and holiness of life" in those who serve the Holy See.

"The reality of the barracks teaches some ethical and spiritual principles, which reflect many of the values that must be pursued also in life: dialogue, loyalty, balance in relationships, understanding," he said.

He also pointed out that the virtues and skills they can acquire in this work will also be useful in life after they leave the Swiss Guard.

The swearing-in ceremony takes place each year on the anniversary of the May 6, 1527 battle that is known as the Sack of Rome, when 147 guards lost their lives defending Pope Clement VII from the army of the mutinous Holy Roman Empire.

During the battle, the pope was able to escape from the Vatican to Castel Sant'Angelo via a secret passageway connecting the two. It is the most significant and deadly event in the history of the Swiss Guard.

Pope Francis noted that this year May 6 falls within the Easter Season, a time in which the Church "invites you to celebrate the beauty of Easter, to relive the Resurrection of Jesus."

"How can you fruitfully relive this wonderful event?" he asked. By "becoming witnesses of the risen Christ." By making present the joy of Easter, especially in places where the culture of death prevails, he said. Or in the lives of people who are living in "tombs" of pain, loss, and need.

"I urge you to bring them a word of comfort and a gesture of fraternity, to become convincing witnesses to the risen Christ, alive and present at all times," he said.

The pope thanked the guards for their diligent work and generous dedication and entrusted them and their service to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

"Every day I personally experience the dedication, professionalism and love with which you carry out your activity," he said. "And thank you for this!"

The swearing-in ceremony will follow a full weekend of events, which are attended by representatives of the Swiss army, Swiss government, and Swiss bishops' conference. Family and friends of the guards, and former guards who return for a visit, also participate.

This year's swearing-in schedule includes a concert by a wind orchestra Sunday morning and vespers in the church of Santa Maria della Pieta in the Vatican's Teutonic College.

After vespers will take place the ceremony of the "deposition of the crown," which commemorates the guards who died during the Sack of Rome, followed by a gala dinner.

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Before the swearing-in ceremony May 6, the guards will attend Mass with Cardinal Angelo Comastri in St. Peter's Basilica.

At the ceremony, each new recruit approaches the flag of the Swiss Guard when his name is called out. Firmly grasping the banner with his left hand, the new guard raises his right hand and opens three fingers as a sign of his faith in the Holy Trinity.

As he holds up his fingers, the guard proclaims this oath: "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!"

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