VATICAN CITY, MAY 6, 2002 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II thanked the Swiss Guards for their service, as 28 new “soldiers of the Pope” were sworn in today.
“On many occasions you have shown that popes can trust you,” the Holy Father said, when he received the world´s smallest army in the Vatican´s Clementine Hall.
The St. Damasus courtyard at the heart of the Apostolic Palace was once again the site of the solemn ceremony in which the Guards began their commitment of at least two years of service to the Pope and the Vatican.
May 6 commemorates the heroism of 147 Swiss Guards who died to protect Pope Clement VII during the 1527 sack of Rome.
It was a polyglot swearing-in ceremony, given the languages spoken in Switzerland: 18 of the new Guards took the oath in German, six in Italian, and four in French.
In thanking the recruits for deciding to dedicate several years to “watch over the Pope and the security of those who work in the Vatican,” John Paul II described the features that characterize the Swiss Guards: “Firmness in faith, fidelity to the Church, responsibility in big and little tasks, conscientiousness in work, valor, humility, abnegation, humanity.”
“I hope that, despite the difficulties of your work, you will know how to live fully this time of mission as an opportunity to go grow in your faith and in your love for the Church, as well as an experience of fraternity among yourselves,” the Holy Father concluded.
In a press conference Saturday to present the swearing-in ceremony, Swiss Guard Commander Pius Segmueller said: “I have not come to start a ´revolution,´ I wish to effect an ´evolution.´”
Segmueller took over the command after the tragedy of May 4, 1998, when Commander Alois Estermann and his wife were murdered by vice leader Cedric Tornay, who subsequently committed suicide.
“I can say that the formation and communication at the interior and exterior level have changed,” Segmueller added. “The Guards are profoundly motivated and they have are full confidence.”
Following that tragic event, more attention has been paid to recruitment, to prior psychological tests, as well as talks to evaluate the motivations of those who wish to join this corps.
“Faith is the principal motivation; it is not possible to do this service without it,” the commander said.
Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, the Swiss Guard has taken greater security measures for pilgrims and Vatican citizens. In particular, it has increased its cooperation with the Italian police and “carabinieri.”
The Swiss Guard, founded by Pope Julius II in 1506, is a company of 110 volunteers, recruited in all the Swiss cantons, in charge of the Pope´s security and that of his residence.
This corps also guards the entrances to Vatican City and is responsible for the security and honor services during liturgical celebrations and papal diplomatic meetings.