Thirty-four recruits join Vaticans Swiss Guard, swearing allegiance to Pope Francis


(ROME) — Thirty-four new Swiss Guard recruits pledged their traditional oath in the Vatican on Monday and swore allegiance to Pope Francis in their distinctive way, raising three fingers to evoke the Holy Trinity while shouting the pontifical oath.

The world’s smallest army, founded in 1506 by Pope Julius II, is still recruited from a group of Swiss towns and villages that have provided the Vatican since then with men who guard the pope and the Apostolic Palace.

Apart from being Swiss males, recruits must be single, aged between 19 and 30, sign on for a minimum of two years, live in Swiss Guard quarters within the Vatican, be practicing Catholics “with an unblemished character,” at least 5.8 ft tall, and have completed their compulsory military service in Switzerland. And, of course, to be ready to sacrifice their life to defend the pope.

For weeks, the new guards have been training for the solemn occasion in the small courtyard within their small barracks tucked inside Vatican City gates. Dressed in their ceremonial red, yellow and blue Renaissance-style uniforms fitted with 33 pounds of helmet and armor, they practice their slow -and faster- march; their superiors shout clipped orders and carefully study the details of their gait and posture and correct the position of their hands, feet, and direction of their gaze.

Training for the solemn occasion and all the ceremonies and official engagements they will have to attend in the tiny city state also involves standing to attention for hours with their halberd. Not quite so visibly, and more frequently, they work in suits and can handle modern firearms: a handgun, taser and assault rifle, seeing to the pope’s safety on his many travels when he leaves the Vatican.

The pope met with the Swiss Guards, their families and friends on the morning of the ceremony. He thanked them for their service and urged them to cultivate community life.

“Today it is widespread among young people the habit of spending their free time alone with their computer or cell phone,” he said during the audience. “Therefore, I also say to you, young guards: go against the current! It is better to use your free time for common activities, for getting to know Rome, for moments of fraternity in which to talk and share. These experiences will build within and will accompany you throughout your life.”

The pope mentioned that new modernized barracks are currently in the planning stage so that the guards can live together in better conditions and not be dispersed due to the lack of space for families. Men who have been guards for five years are allowed to marry and live with their families.

After a recruitment drop during the Covid pandemic, Cpl. Eliah Cinotti, the Swiss Guard spokesman, told ABC News the small force will be back to normal numbers of a total of 135 guards allowing the mini military corps to face the upcoming Holy Year with its upsurge of large-scale ceremonies, pilgrims and visitors with more ease.

One of the new recruits from Ticino, Gabriele Scarfetta, a history buff, said he is looking forward to next year’s challenge and said he loved being able to visit Rome and eat well; being a guard was a wish he had harbored for a long time.

Asked if he has stood guard outside the Pope’s door — one of the duties assigned to the Swiss Guard — he said he hadn’t had the honor yet. But, he said, he had shook the pope’s hand a number of times and found that reciting the rosary in his head was helpful to withstand the long stationary two-hour sentry duty at the Bronze Door.

The oath swearing ceremony for new recruits is held each year on May 6, an historic day for the Swiss Guard as it recalls the deaths of 147 predecessors during the Sack of Rome by Emperor Charles V in 1527. Only 42 guards survived the attack and saved Pope Clement VII from capture.

Monday’s swearing-in ceremony was held in an inner courtyard of the Apostolic Palace with Bishop Edgar Penna Parra from the Vatican’s Secretary of State representing the pope.

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