6 May 2013


 Pope Francis met on Sunday May 5, 2013 with the members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard. In his address to the Guards, the Holy Father reminded them “The Faith that God gave you on the day of Baptism is the most precious treasure you have! And your mission in the service of the Pope and of the Church finds in the Faith its source . . . Dear Swiss Guards, do not forget, the Lord walks with you.” 
Each year on May 6th , the Swiss Guard commemorates the sacrifice of 147 soldiers who died defending Pope Clement VII during the “Sack of Rome,” in 1527. To commemorate the heroic death of the soldiers, the anniversary is also the occasion of the solemn oath of 35 new recruits, which took place this afternoon in the courtyard of San Damaso in the Apostolic Palace.

Dr Donald Prudlo, associate professor of medieval history at Jacksonville State University in Alabama (USA) told us more about the Swiss Guard.
“For hundreds of years Swiss guards formed part of the bodyguards of the monarchs of Europe. This began in the late middle ages, when Swiss mercenary companies were highly sought after. Kings and princes soon discovered that their Swiss troops were loyal and far less open to corruption than other military forces. Their history is full of heroic stories about their protection of various sovereigns, not the least of which was their defence of King Louis XVI in 1792, when hundreds of them lost their lives defending the Tuileries Palace from revolutionaries.
“Like other monarchs, the popes too appreciated this kind of dedication and incorporated Swiss volunteers into the forces of the papal states in the late 1400s. In 1503 Pope Julius II, an exceptionally able pontiff, foresaw the establishment of a permanent corps of 200 Swiss for the papacy. In 1506 the corps was formally founded, and they have defended the popes from that day to this, having just recently celebrated their 500th anniversary in 2006. 

“Their most famous moment in papal service came in 1527, when Protestant troops, having mutinied from the armies of Charles V, sacked Rome. 147 Swiss guardsmen laid down their lives in defending Clement VII. As a result of their sacrifice the Pope was given enough time to flee down the famous Passetto di Borgo from the Vatican to the safety of the fortress of Castel Sant’ Angelo. The guard has had other tense moments in its history as well, such as in 1848, when they only barely held the Roman revolutionaries back from doing violence to Bl. Pius IX at the Quirinal palace.

“Though there were other papal military units in existence, such as the Palatine guard, since 1970 the Swiss guards have assumed all the ceremonial roles for papal events and liturgies and can always be seen, in their colorful ceremonial costume with halberd, flanking the supreme pontiff.
“Yet their duties are not all ceremonial, they are a real military force with excellent training and modern weaponry. One can see them, in their daily attire, as they guard the working entrance to Vatican City State, the Porta Santa Anna. They are an army, bodyguard, and border protection all rolled into one.
“In terms of the place of the Swiss Guards in the Catholic Church, they are far from being an outdated ceremonial body. Pope Francis put it best a few days ago. He offered the soldiers a greeting of affection and gratitude. ‘The Church,’ he said, ‘loves you so much . . . and so do I’.”

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