Sacrificial Service: Swearing-In Day with the Swiss Guards

Pope Francis with the Swiss Guards before today’s Swearing-In Ceremony at the Vatican (Vatican Radio)

I have always been intrigued by the Pontifical Swiss Guards. I think their unusual uniform was what first got my attention when I was a teenager. This costume-like design from the Renaissance is said to have been created by Michelangelo. Standing guard at the Vatican, keeping watch near the Holy Father, these guards definitely fascinate me. One day I will see them in person. I have never been to Europe, but you can be sure that the Vatican is on my bucket list.

Back in February when Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI stepped down, the final act marking the onset of the Sede Vacante was the departure of the Swiss Guards from Castel Gandolfo. We wept with people around the world as they left their posts. It was a very emotional moment for me.

In recent weeks our hearts were warmed by a widely-circulating account of Pope Francis insisting that the Swiss Guard who was keeping watch outside his room at the Casa Santa Marta sit down and have a snack to eat. Though I never read a confirmation of its authenticity, it sounds exactly like the Holy Father that we have come to know and love over the past seven weeks. Read one account of the story here.

Over the years I have read a lot of fascinating articles about the Swiss Guards and their complete dedication to the safety and protection of the Holy Father. Their complete commitment to the Church and the Pope resonate in my heart. For more than three decades of teaching Religion to John Carroll students, one of my passions is sharing my love of the Holy Father and everything Vatican.

The National Geographic DVD “Inside the Vatican” (based on the book of the same name) includes an insightful look into the training, commitment, and service of the Swiss Guards. Now considered the world’s smallest standing army, the Pontifical Swiss Guard was founded in 1506 by Pope Julius II to serve as bodyguards to the pope.

Requirements to be a Swiss Guard today include: Must be a single man at time of admission, Swiss, Roman Catholic, between 19 and 30 years of age, at least 5’8” in height, have completed required Swiss military service, and have a good moral background. 

Today (May 6) marks the annual Swearing-In Ceremony at the Vatican where this year 35 new Swiss recruits will promise before God to defend the Holy Father. The significance of this date recalls the sack of Rome by the army of Charles V on May 6, 1527 when 147 Swiss Guards were killed in action. They saved the life of Pope Clement VII who was brought to safety through the Passetto (secret passage) to Castel Sant’Angelo.  

The ceremony will be broadcast live at 11 a.m. EDT today (5 p.m. in Rome) by Vatican Radio and live-streamed here

The new Guards, in full uniform, will pledge to serve and, if necessary, to sacrifice their lives to defend the Holy Father. The ceremony takes place in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. Each recruit recites the oath: “I, [name], swear I will observe faithfully, loyally and honorably all that has now been read out to me! May God and his saints assist me!”

For Further Information:

1. VIDEO: Watch the Swearing-In Ceremony for 26 new members of the Swiss Guards last May, 2012 from the Vatican (2 minutes)

2. Vatican Stamps honor the 500th Anniversary of the Swiss Guards in 2005: 

3.”Inside the Vatican” DVD by National Geographic:
a. Buy it here.
b. Watch it here.

4. Official Website

Catholic Review

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