There are two armed corps in Vatican City State. One is the Swiss Guards, famous for their colourful uniforms. The other is the Vatican Gendarmerie, with the blue uniform.
The Gendarmerie, the Vatican Police Corps, was created in 1816 by Pius VII, after the Congress of Vienna, with the name Papal Police Corps. After Pius VII’s return from exile in Gaeta, it took the name Papal Gendarmerie, a corps made up of some 150 gendarmes, which since 2008 adheres to Interpol.
Some time ago, when Commander Domenico Giani was asked if the gendarmes are guardian angels of the Pope, he answered: “No, because the angels are a heavenly reality; we, gendarmes, operate here on earth, with the help of our protector, Saint Michael the Archangel. “
September 26 was the feast of the Gendarmerie and Monday was the feast of the Archangel Michael, their patron.
To understand better what the Vatican Gendarmerie is, ZENIT interviewed an officer of the Corps, who explained some particulars. His name is withheld by request.
ZENIT: How does one become a member of the Vatican Gendarmerie?
Officer: Above all there must be love of the Church and of the Pope. Then, as in all police corps there must be a selection and a competition. It can be hard work, which can also give much satisfaction.
ZENIT: Do you have a particular spirituality?
Officer: We have a chaplain who supports us spiritually and is always available to all. He celebrates Holy Mass, prepares the Spiritual Exercises we engage in every year, and is a reference figure for us all.
ZENIT: What relationship do you have, or how do you work, with the Italian Police?
Officer: In Saint Peter’s Square, which is Vatican territory under all aspects, when the Pope is not present, it is under the jurisdiction of the Italian Police. So that if at that moment there is a purse-snatcher who steals, the Italian Police intervenes. Instead, if the Pope is present, the Italian Police withdraws to the border and the Gendarmerie intervenes and the Swiss Guards, as indicated in the Lateran Treaty.
ZENIT: And on the papal trips in Italy and abroad?
Officer: On trips in Italy we cooperate with the Public Security Inspectorate adjacent to the Vatican. And abroad, we cooperate with the Police of the country that hosts us. Present also on trips outside of Italy are representatives of the Swiss Guard.
ZENIT: What is the difference between the Gendarmerie and the Swiss Guard?
Officer: Both collaborate to protect the Pope. They have the security service of the Apostolic Palace, where we do not have competence, unless there is a crime, let’s say a theft, then yes, in as much as we are Judicial Police. They also carry out a first filter at the entrances of Vatican City, in addition to the representative role. Instead, we are Security, Judicial Police of control of the borders.
ZENIT: It might be said that grave crimes don’t happen in the Vatican.
Officer: In reality, they can happen, as was the case of Benedict XVI’s butler, who was arrested and the investigation were carried out by us, or in cases of daily life, such as a theft in the supermarket. There are rarely problems with tourists; it is more with purse-snatchers, who enter Saint Peter’s Basilica or the Vatican Museums. Let’s not forget that some 11,000 people enter the Basilica daily, and some 18,000 enter the Museums, a propitious terrain for thieves. But, in Vatican City everything is quite calm.
ZENIT: Were the cells inaugurated by the butler?
Officer: They were used sometimes in the past, but undoubtedly he is the one who spent the longest time there.
ZENIT: How is the relationship with Pope Francis?
Officer: Commander Giani has a lovely relationship with the Pope; they exchange points of view, he is very available. What the Pope wants comes directly to him, in an immediate relation. We have gone to [the Pope’s morning] Mass at Saint Martha’s in turns. Then, this year the Pope will celebrate Mass for us, on the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, at the headquarters of the Governorate.[Translation by ZENIT]