VATICAN CITY, MAY 5, 2004 (Zenit.org).- On Thursday 33 new recruits will be sworn in as members of the Swiss Guard, the corps that protects the Pope.
The May 6 date of the swearing-in ceremony recalls the day in 1527 when 147 Swiss Guards died during the sack of Rome. They fell in battle protecting Pope Clement VII and the Church from the onslaught of the troops of Emperor Charles V.
Pope Julius II founded the Swiss Guard as a corps, directly under the authority of the Holy See, whose main duties were to guard the person of the Roman Pontiff and the Apostolic Palaces.
The recruits will be sworn-in in four languages: 23 in German, seven in French, two in Italian, and one in Romansh, a dialect in Switzerland. The corps will have 110 members.
The oath of the Swiss Guards states: “I swear to faithfully, loyally and honorably serve the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II and his legitimate Successors, and also dedicate myself to them with all my strength, sacrificing if necessary also my life to defend them.”
In a press conference Tuesday, Colonel Elmar Mader, commander of the Swiss Guard, announced the start of preparations for the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the corps, to be observed in 2006.
Commemorative books will be published beginning next year. A joint Vatican-Swiss stamp will be issued and a coin minted in Switzerland. A pilgrimage will be organized from Bellinzona in Switzerland to Rome, in an attempt to repeat the road followed by the first 150 Swiss Guards called by Pope Julius II.
Asked how vigilance has changed since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Mader explained that “the work of the Swiss Guards has not changed much,” as already with the Jubilee Year 2000, “the sign of alert had been given and more stringent measures were introduced.”
The only thing that has changed radically is the “control of correspondence in the entrances [to the Vatican], as it was too easy to hand in correspondence at the entrances,” he said. “We have totally changed the system.”
The colonel said that of the five tasks of the Swiss Guards, only three are related to security: to watch over control at the entrances; to guarantee the security of the Apostolic Palace, where the Pope lives; and to watch over the personal security of the Holy Father. The other two tasks are the service of honor and the service of order in papal public events.
With these exceptions, the rest of the security of Vatican City is in the hands of the Vatican police. However, according to the Lateran Pacts, the security of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Square and the accesses to it, is entrusted to the Italian state police.
Asked when there would be “women Swiss Guards,” Mader replied: “We work in an ecclesial environment. I do not exclude that in the future there might be a change. But it won’t be from one day to the next and, in any case, it won’t be under my orders.”
Moreover, such a change would entail structural changes in the barracks, which have just been restored, “and this would cost a lot,” he said.
“In the third place, and more importantly, many problems would arise,” Mader added. “In general, the recruits are not older than 25 and at that age men and women in the same barracks create problems, as we see from the experience of others, for example, on U.S. ships.”
For his June 5-6 trip to Switzerland, John Paul II has decided to invite four Swiss Guards in active service, in addition to those who are deployed for security reasons, to highlight his closeness to Switzerland and, in particular, to young people.