Swiss Guards receive funding boost for barracks renovation

CNA 554a53ab50ad6 57160 Members of the Swiss Guards, pictured May 6, 2015. | Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

The Swiss government agreed last week to give $5.66 million toward the renovation of the Swiss Guard barracks at the Vatican.

The Swiss Federal Council, the highest executive authority in the country, is giving the funds in 2020 in honor of the 100th anniversary of Switzerland's resumption of diplomatic relations with the Holy See.

The five million Swiss francs from the government are just a small part of the renovation's overall budget of 55 million Swiss francs ($62.27 million).

The renewal project will include all three barracks buildings. Two buildings are currently used as accommodation for the unmarried guards and for the canteen. The third building has administrative offices and housing for married officers with families.

Fundraising for the renovation of the Swiss Guard barracks has been underway since 2016, through the creation of a Switzerland-based charitable foundation

Twenty million Swiss francs have been raised toward the project so far, foundation president Jean-Pierre Roth told CNA. The renovation is still in the planning phase, he said, with work scheduled to start in 2023.

According to the foundation, the guard's quarters have only undergone minor changes since their construction in the early 1800s, leading to high maintenance costs and the need for major repairs and updates.

The new barracks are also necessary to accommodate the growing number of guards. The world's smallest army plans to expand from 110 to 135 guardsmen.

"The accommodation and facilities no longer meet current standards in terms of comfort or sustainability," a press release from the Federal Council said. Swiss architectural and engineering firms are overseeing the project.

The Federal Council's statement also noted that "the Swiss Guard enjoys widespread support among Swiss authorities and people regardless of faith community."

The Pontifical Swiss Guard has been in continual existence for 514 years and is considered to be the world's oldest standing army.

Even during the Kulturkampf, a conflict between the Catholic Church and the government of the Kingdom of Prussia, which led to a 47-year break-down in relations between the Holy See and the Swiss Confederation, the guard continued to defend Pope Pius IX and his successors.

The Vatican military was established by Pope Julius II in 1506 and is charged with serving and protecting the pope, which new recruits vow to do, even "sacrificing if necessary also my life."

The Swiss Guard is responsible for Vatican security together with the Vatican gendarmes. 

Every year the guards commemorate the May 4 anniversary of the Sack of Rome, the 1527 battle in which 147 Swiss Guards lost their lives defending Pope Clement VII from mutinous troops of the Holy Roman Empire.

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Pope Francis met with the 38 newest members of the Swiss Guard two days before they were sworn-in Oct. 4.

"May the oath you take the day after tomorrow also be a testimony of fidelity to your baptismal vocation, that is, to Christ, who calls you to be men and Christians, protagonists of your existence," he said.

"With his help and with the power of the Holy Spirit, you will calmly face the obstacles and challenges of life. Do not forget that the Lord is always at your side," the pope continued. "I sincerely wish you to always feel his consoling presence."

Photographs of the proposed design courtesy of the Foundation for the Renovation of the Barracks of the Papal Swiss Guard in the Vatican

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