VATICAN CITY, JAN. 22, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI gave tribute to the Swiss Guards 500 years after Pope Julius II welcomed and blessed the first contingent.
Today after praying the Angelus with the thousands who gathered in St. Peter’s Square, Benedict XVI greeted “all those who make up this distinguished corps to which I impart my heartfelt apostolic blessing.”
The Swiss Guards arrived in Rome on Jan. 22, 1506, to ensure the defense of the Pope and the Apostolic Palace.
To open the fifth centenary celebration, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state and dean of the College of Cardinals, presided at a Mass this morning for members of the Swiss Guard.
The cardinal noted that, when the Swiss Guards take their oath, they swear to “serve faithfully and honorably the Supreme Pontiff and his legitimate successors with all their strength, sacrificing their life if necessary for his defense.”
“May this faithfulness always be your motto,” he said.
On explaining the reasons for the creation of the Swiss Guards, Cardinal Sodano quoted a phrase Ulrich Zwingli, founder of the Swiss Reformed Church, said before leaving the Catholic Church: “The Swiss see the sad situation of the Church of God, the Mother of Christendom, and consider it grave and dangerous that any tyrant, out of greed, can attack with impunity the common Mother of Christendom.”
Cardinal Sodano urged the Swiss Guards to “love forever the Church of Christ.”
Several commemorative events have been planned for this year.
On April 7 some 100 former Swiss Guards will march to Rome from Bellinzona in the Swiss canton of Ticino.
The march will follow the old pilgrim route known as the Via Francigena, and the guards will reach Rome on May 4, where, as 500 years before, the men will cross the city of Rome, where they will be welcomed by the local authorities, then proceed to St. Peter’s Square, where they will receive the Holy Father’s blessing.
May 6, the main day of the fifth centenary celebrations, will begin with a commemorative Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.
A wreath of flowers will then be laid in the Square of Roman Protomartyrs, inside the Vatican, to recall the Swiss Guards who fell during the sack of Rome in 1527.
In the afternoon the annual swearing-in ceremony for new recruits will take place; for the first time it will be held in St. Peter’s Square, rather than in the San Damaso courtyard. In the evening, a fireworks display over Castel Sant’Angelo will conclude the day.
Also planned is a co-issue of Vatican and Swiss stamps dedicated to the 500th anniversary of the foundation of the Guard.
It is the first time “that a series of stamps has been jointly issued by Switzerland and Vatican City,” said Colonel Elmar Mader, commander of the Guard. The stamps have been designed by the Swiss artist Rudolf Mirer, himself a former Swiss Guard.
The head of the Philatelic and Numismatic Office of the Governorate of Vatican City also announced the minting of a commemorative €2 coin, scheduled to be released during the first six months of 2006 and dedicated to the Guard.
Mader pointed out that the Swiss Confederation issued a gold coin to commemorate the anniversary, designed by Rudolf Mirer.
Two further coins will be minted for the occasion of the commemorative march: one in gold with the image of Pope Julius II, and another in silver portraying Pope Benedict XVI.
An official medal of the Holy See will also be produced and awarded to current members of the Swiss Guard, according to Mader. Today the Swiss Guard numbers 100.