May 21, 2024
Defence & Security Events

34 Recruits Join Vatican’s Elite Swiss Guard Corps

Vow To Protect Pope Francis With Their Life

Thirty-four new Pontifical Swiss Guard recruits swore allegiance to Pope Francis and his legitimate successors during an elaborate swearing-in ceremony held at the Vatican in Rome on May 6, 2024.

In their distinctive way, the 34 Swiss Guard members raised three fingers to evoke the Holy Trinity while shouting the pontifical oath.

Of the 34 recruits, 16 are German-speaking, 16 are French-speaking, and two are Italian-speaking. Colonel Christoph Graf is the Commander of the Swiss Guard.

The swearing-in ceremony of the elite Swiss Guard – the world’s oldest and smallest professional army – is held at the Vatican each year on May 6 to commemorate the anniversary of the heroic sacrifice of 147 Swiss Guards who died while defending Pope Clement VII during the Sack of Rome in 1527 by the mutinous troops of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

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Swiss Guard recruits at their swearing-in ceremony on May 6, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

The swearing-in ceremony on May 6, 2024, was held in an inner courtyard of the Vatican Apostolic Palace. Bishop Edgar Penna Parra, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, represented Pope Francis.

On May 6, 2024, in the Vatican Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis received the Swiss Guard Corps in the audience, accompanied by their family members, on the occasion of the swearing-in of the new Guards.

Papal Address

The following is the Pope’s address to those present during the meeting:

Dear members and relatives of the Swiss Guard,

Distinguished Authorities,

Dear brothers and sisters, dear children, good morning, and welcome to you all!
I greet the Commander, the Officials and all the members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard, together with their family members who have come for the celebration. I gratefully greet the civil and military authorities.

This day always comes as an eagerly awaited and welcome occasion for me to publicly express my thanks for the Swiss Guard’s presence and service. First of all, thank you for your presence—a presence that stands out for its quality, for its kind, attentive, indeed scrupulous style. And then, of course, thank you for your daily service, always generous and diligent.

My gratitude affectionately extends to the families of these young men because if they are here, if they are well-educated, it is first and foremost due to the environment in which they grew up.

I warmly express my appreciation to the Commander, Mr. Christoph Graf, and his staff, among whom I particularly thank the Chaplain, a fine Benedictine!

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Swiss Guard recruits at their swearing-in ceremony on May 6, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

Dear Guards, I am glad that your Superiors have told me about several positive aspects, which I am pleased to share now.

There is an excellent Corps spirit among you, a positive and respectful atmosphere in the barracks, and courteous behaviour towards the Superiors and guests, despite sometimes long periods of intense and tiring service because you are somewhat reduced in number. You demonstrate a high level of motivation and will to serve, and also – this pleases me greatly – good relations among yourselves: you go on excursions together, spend holidays together, and often go out in company. And this is very good!

Indeed, the relationship is a critical experience for us Christians: Jesus revealed to us and bore witness that God is love, He is in Himself relationship, and in this mystery, we find the purpose and fulfilment of our existence. Good relationships are the high road to our human and Christian growth and maturation. Much of what characterises our personality is learned through relationships with parents, brothers and sisters, schoolmates, teachers, friends, work colleagues, etc.

This is why life in the extended family of the Swiss Guard, for at least two years of service, is such an important and formative time for you. It is not only a work period but a time of life, relationships, and intense communion in a diversified company. This diversity and intensity of communion and relationships between you and your daily barracks environment is an essential and qualifying aspect for you.

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Swiss Guard recruits and dignitaries at the Vatican on May 6, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

From this perspective, the new barracks, currently in the planning phase, should make an essential contribution to the reunification of Guards and their families, who are currently forced to live somewhat spread out due to lack of space, and thus also to the support and strengthening of this bond and the sense of family within the Corps.

Again, about the relational dimension, I urge you to cultivate community life actively. Today, the habit of spending free time alone with the computer or mobile phone is widespread among young people. Therefore, I also tell you, young Guards: go against the tide! Please go against the tide! It is better to use your free time for communal activities, to get to know Rome, for moments of fraternity in which to tell and share, for sport… These experiences build you up inside and will accompany you throughout your life.

Dear friends, I wish you a good celebration and entrust you to protecting the Virgin Mary and your patron saint. I know you pray for me, and I know: I thank you warmly and ask you, please, to continue to do so.

Thank you all!

All About The Swiss Guard

Nestled within the walls of the Vatican City, a sovereign state enclaved within Rome, lies one of the world’s most iconic and revered symbols of protection: the 518-year-old Swiss Guard Corps.

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The Swiss Guard band performs at the Vatican on May 6, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

Clad in vibrant Renaissance-style uniforms, adorned with halberds and traditional weaponry, the Swiss Guard Corps is a testament to centuries-old tradition and unwavering dedication to safeguarding the spiritual heart of the Catholic Church.

Origins And History

The Swiss Guard’s origins date back to January 22, 1506, when Pope Julius II, known for his ambitious patronage of the arts, recruited the first contingent of Swiss mercenaries to serve as his bodyguards. Since then, the Swiss Guard has maintained an unbroken tradition of service, enduring centuries of political upheavals, papal transitions, and global conflicts.

Tradition Meets Modernity

While the Swiss Guard is steeped in tradition, its role has evolved to meet the demands of modern security challenges. Today, the primary mission of the Swiss Guard is to ensure the safety and security of the Pope, the Vatican City, and its inhabitants.

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Swiss Guard drummers on May 6, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

In addition to ceremonial duties, such as guarding the entrances to Vatican City and participating in papal events and ceremonies, the Swiss Guard is trained in modern security techniques, counterterrorism, and crisis response.

Recruitment And Training

Recruitment into the Swiss Guard is a highly selective process, open exclusively to Swiss male citizens who have completed their mandatory military service in Switzerland. Candidates must meet stringent criteria, including unmarried, aged between 19 and 30, practising Catholics, and possessing Swiss citizenship.

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Swiss Guards at the recruits’ swearing-in ceremony on May 6, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

Candidates must sign on for at least two years, live in Swiss Guard quarters within the Vatican, and be 5.8 ft tall. 

The rigorous selection process includes physical fitness tests, background checks, and interviews, culminating in a swearing-in ceremony where recruits pledge their loyalty to the Pope and the Swiss Guard.

Once selected, recruits undergo intensive marksmanship, close protection, martial arts, and Vatican protocol training. The training regimen instils discipline, teamwork, and a deep sense of duty, preparing guardsmen for the unique challenges they may face while serving in the Vatican.

Uniform And Equipment

One of the most recognisable aspects of the Swiss Guard is its distinctive uniform, designed by Renaissance artist Michelangelo and inspired by the colours of the Medici family. The uniform features a blue, red, and yellow striped doublet, white breeches, a black beret adorned with the iconic Swiss Guard emblem, and polished steel armour for ceremonial occasions.

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Dignitaries at the Swiss Guard recruits’ swearing-in ceremony on May 6, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

In addition to their ceremonial attire, guardsmen are equipped with modern weaponry, including firearms, batons, and pepper spray, to ensure the Vatican’s safety and security.

While the halberd, a traditional polearm dating back to the Middle Ages, remains a symbol of the Swiss Guard’s heritage, it is primarily used for ceremonial purposes.

Guardians Of Tradition and Faith

Beyond their role as protectors of the Vatican, the Swiss Guard embodies the values of honour, loyalty, and service to the Catholic Church. Guards are ready to lay down their lives in defence of the Pope. In times of crisis and uncertainty, the sight of the Swiss Guard standing steadfast at their posts symbolises reassurance and continuity for Catholics worldwide.

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The Swiss Guard is a 518-year-old corps – the oldest in the world. Credit: Vatican Media

As guardians of tradition and faith, the Swiss Guard remains an enduring symbol of the Vatican’s commitment to preserving its rich cultural heritage and ensuring the safety and security of the Holy See. In an ever-changing world, the Swiss Guard is a timeless symbol of devotion, duty, and unwavering loyalty to the papacy.

Featured image: Recruits of the Swiss Guard at their swearing-in ceremony at the Vatican on May 6, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

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