Swiss Guard to Increase Its Ranks and Change Helmets

Swiss Guard to Increase Its Ranks and Change Helmets May 6, 2018

The Vatican has 33 new Swiss Guards who took the ancient oath into the world’s oldest army.  They will begin wearing a new lighter weight, PVC helmet.

Each is Swiss, under age 30, an upstanding Catholic, who pledges a minimum of two years to protecting the Pope.

The Swiss Guard is preparing to expand its ranks by two dozen members to respond to increasing administrative demands while ensuring guards are not overworked.

Commander of the Swiss Guard, Christoph Graf, told journalists May 4 that the Vatican’s army will be going through an internal reorganization and that they have been asked to up the number of guards from 110 to 135.  The expansion is not necessarily a response to greater security challenges – five years in to his pontificate, the guard has adjusted to Francis’ spontaneity and informality, Graf said.  The restructuring is just a part of maintaining a modern and up-to-date security team, Swiss Guard Sergeant and media liaison Urs Breitenmoser told Catholic News Agency.

There is an increased need for administrative positions, such as answering phones in the call center, and at the same time, they want to guarantee the men have time to rest, since they work long hours already, he said.

Before May 6th’s swearing in ceremony in the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, a new helmet was unveiled. The guards are replacing their metal helmets with plastic PVC ones made with a 3-D printer.  This means cooler and more comfortable headgear when standing guard for hours at a time.  The new helmets weren’t worn for the ceremony, as more formal helmets are used for the elaborate, pomp-filled swearing-in.

Swiss Guard spokesman Sgt. Urs Breitenmoser said the Guards hope to replace their existing metal helmets by next year after finding sponsors to pay for the new ones, which cost around 880 euros ($957) each, half the cost of the old ones.  The new helmets will be used for papal Masses and state visits.

The Swiss Guard is the oldest, yet smallest, standing army in the world, founded in 1506 by Pope Giulio II. Tradition has it that he was so impressed by the bravery of Swiss mercenaries that he asked them to defend the Vatican. Ever since, for more than 500 years, Switzerland has been supplying soldiers to the Vatican.

The May 6 date for the annual swearing-in ceremony commemorates the day in 1527 when 147 guardsmen died while protecting Pope Clement VII during the Sack of Rome.  At the ceremony, each new recruit approaches the flag of the Swiss Guard when his name is called out. Firmly grasping the banner with his left hand, the new guard raises his right hand and opens three fingers as a sign of his faith in the Holy Trinity.  As he holds up his fingers, the guard proclaims this oath: “I, (name), swear diligently and faithfully to abide by all that has just been read out to me, so grant me God and so help me his saints.”

In English, the full oath reads: “I swear I will faithfully, loyally and honorably serve the Supreme Pontiff Francis and his legitimate successors, and also dedicate myself to them with all my strength, sacrificing if necessary also my life to defend them. I assume this same commitment with regard to the Sacred College of Cardinals whenever the see is vacant. Furthermore, I promise to the Commanding Captain and my other superiors respect, fidelity and obedience. This I swear! May God and our Holy Patrons assist me!

Pope Francis met with Swiss Guard May 4, where the pope encouraged them to meet the Lord in personal prayer and community, in the Word of God, and in “fervent participation in the Eucharist.”

The secret of the effectiveness of your work here at the Vatican, as well as every one of your projects is, in fact, the constant reference to Christ,” he said, also noting his admiration of the discipline, discretion, and professionalism the guards demonstrate in carrying out their service.

He assured them of his prayers and support and told them to “live consistently the Catholic faith; persevering in friendship with Jesus and in love for the Church; be joyous and diligent in the great as in the small and humble daily tasks; [have] courage and patience, generosity and solidarity with everyone.”

“These are the virtues that you are called to exercise when you provide the service of honor and security in the Vatican,” Francis stated.

photo: Swiss Guard swearing in ceremony at the Vatican on May 6, 2015. Credit: Daniel Ibanez / CNA

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