Thirty-eight Swiss Guard recruits were recently sworn in on Oct. 4 during a solemn, private ceremony in the Courtyard of San Damaso of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.
ZENIT English’s Senior Vatican Correspondent was there to cover the festive celebratory event full of music, emotion, and families. Many relatives proudly watched, with many children playing behind the Vatican officials presiding over the event. The current Subsitute of the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Edgar Pena Parra, presided over the event, beside representative of the Prefecture of the Papal Household, Msgr. Leonardo Sapienza.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the ceremony was held only now. Normally it is on May 6th, to commemorate the Sack of Rome on that very date, in 1527, when the city was overrun by mercenaries of Charles V.
To save Pope Clement VII, only 42 of the 187 guards survived. Through a secret passage, the ‘Passetto,’ they were able to bring him, at the last minute, to safety.
According to the Swiss Guards’ official website, the day of the swearing in ceremony is “the high point in the life of each guard.” When they swear on the Guard flag wearing the Gala uniform and the Harnish (breastplate), they swear loyalty for one’s whole life.
During the ceremony, the recruits repeat a shortened form of the oath read out by the chaplain:
“I swear I will faithfully, loyally and honorably serve the Supreme Pontiff and his legitimate successors and I dedicate myself to them with all my strength. I assume this same commitment with regard to the Sacred College of Cardinals whenever the Apostolic See is vacant. Furthermore, I promise to the Commanding Captain and my other superiors respect, fidelity and obedience. I swear to observe all that the honour of position demands of me.”
The ceremony was in French and German. Much emotion could be felt among those present, and among the families. There was a sweet moment when a Swiss Guard behind the scenes helped a desperate mother with a baby, find a little table in the corner, where she was able to change the baby.
When the Pope received the new Swiss Guard recruits on Oct. 2, 2020, in the Vatican, accompanied by their parents, he reminded them that the Lord is always at their side. He told them to take consolation from Him, and that with Him near you, they will have all the strength you need…
Giving “warm greetings” to the new recruits, Francis thanked them for “following the example of so many of their fellow country-men who have chosen to dedicate a period of their youth at the service of the Successor of Peter.”
The presence of the recruits’ family members, the Pope observed, expresses “the devotion of Swiss Catholics to the Holy See,” as well as “the moral education and good example, with which parents have transmitted the Christian faith to their children and the sense of generous service to their neighbor.”
After greeting representatives of the Foundation for the Pontifical Swiss Guard, Francis recalled “the illustrious past” of the Corps, including the numerous Guards who gave their lives during the Sack of Rome.
The Holy Father had prayed that the oath the future Swiss Guards would take at the ceremony would be “an attestation of fidelity to your baptismal vocation, namely, to Christ, who calls you to be men and Christians, protagonists of your existence.”
“With His help and with the strength of the Holy Spirit,” Pope Francis said, “you will face serenely the obstacles and challenges of life. Do not forget that the Lord is always at your side.”
Francis expressed his “heartfelt wish” that they “always be aware of His consoling presence.” Expressing his gratitude to the entire Swiss Guard Corps, the Pope thanked them “not only for what you do — which is so much! — but also for how you do it.”
“Saint Teresa of Calcutta,” Francis recalled, “said that, at the end of our life we will be judged not for the many things we did, but for the love we put into those things.” The Holy Father assured them of his prayers, asked them to pray for him, and imparted upon them, his Apostolic Blessing.
Here is a translation of the Pope’s address:
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The Holy Father’s Address
Dear Officers and Members of the Swiss Guard!
I am happy to meet with you on the occasion of this your feast day. A warm greeting goes to the new recruits that, following the example of so many of their fellow country-men have chosen to dedicate a period of their youth at the service of the Successor of Peter. The presence of your family members expresses the devotion of Swiss Catholics to the Holy See, as well as the moral education and good example, with which parents have transmitted the Christian faith to their children and the sense of generous service to their neighbour. My grateful greeting goes also to the representatives of the Foundation for the Pontifical Swiss Guard.
Today offers me the opportunity to recall the illustrious past of your Corps. My thought goes in particular to the “Sacking of Rome,” which witnessed the Swiss Guards defending the Pope courageously, to giving their life. May the memory of that event be able to evoke in you the danger of a spiritual “sacking.” In the present social context, many young people risk spoiling their soul, when they follow ideals and lifestyles that respond only to material desires and needs.
My wish is that your stay in Rome may constitute a favourable time to use to the best all the positive things that this city offers you. It is rich in history, culture and faith; therefore, take the opportunities offered to you to enhance you, culturally, linguistically and spiritually. The time you will spend here is a unique moment in your existence: may you be able to live it with a spirit of fraternity, helping one another to lead a life rich in meaning and joyously Christian.
May the oath you will take day-after-tomorrow be also an attestation of fidelity to your baptismal vocation, namely, to Christ, who calls you to be men and Christians, protagonists of your existence. With His help and with the strength of the Holy Spirit, you will face serenely the obstacles and challenges of life. Do not forget that the Lord is always at your side. My heartfelt wish is that you will always be aware of His consoling presence.
I take the occasion to renew the expression of my gratitude to the entire Pontifical Swiss Guard Corps. And I thank you, not only for what you do — which is so much! — but also for how you do it. Saint Teresa of Calcutta said that, at the end of our life we will be judged not for the many things we did, but for the love we put into those things.
I assure you of my prayers for all your good intentions and you too, please, pray for me. I impart to you all my heartfelt Apostolic Blessing.[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
All photos seen in this article were taken by ZENIT Senior Vatican Correspondent, Deborah Castellano Lubov