Pope tells Swiss Guard soldiers to arm themselves with Gospel, rosary

Swiss Guard march after an event with Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Swiss Guard march after an event with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square. (CNS/Paul Haring)

By Carol Glatz Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Wearing armor and carrying medieval-era weaponry — halberds and swords — is not enough.

Pope Francis told Swiss Guards that they should always be armed with a pocket-edition of the Gospel and a rosary.

In addition to serving and protecting the pope, a Swiss Guard “is a Christian with genuine faith,” he told members of the corps May 4.

Living that faith means receiving the sacraments by attending Mass regularly, going to confession frequently, but also reading the Gospel daily, he said.

“The thing I say to everyone, I’ll also say to you: always have on hand a small Gospel to read as soon as you have a quiet moment.”

He also told them to pray the rosary, especially when they are serving as honor guards and must stand immobile and at attention for hours.

The pope made his remarks during a private audience with members of the Swiss Guard, including new recruits, who will be sworn in May 6. The new guards’ family members also were at the audience.

New recruits pledge to “faithfully, loyally and honorably” serve and protect the pontiff and, if necessary, sacrifice their lives for him.

The colorful induction ceremony is held May 6 every year to mark the date in 1527 when 147 Swiss Guards lost their lives defending Pope Clement VII in the Sack of Rome. Only 42 guards survived. Holding the ceremony on the anniversary is meant to remind new guards of the seriousness of their commitment.

Today, the 110 Swiss soldiers are responsible for guarding all entrances into Vatican City State as well as keeping watch over the pope and his residence in the Domus Sanctae Marthae. They also provide security and ceremonial services during liturgical events and visits of heads of state and other dignitaries to the Vatican.

Pope Francis thanked them for their service and reminded them how important it is that they be helpful, kind and courteous with the countless visitors they meet every day, since they are “the face” of the Holy See.

Pope Francis had met with the corps’ new commander, Col. Christoph Graf, 54, during a ceremony to inaugurate and bless the guard’s new flag May 1.

Elements of the Swiss Guard flag change with each new pope and new commander. Col. Graf, who has been serving in the Swiss Guard since 1987, was named commander of the guard Feb. 7.

A large white cross divides the square-shaped flag into four quadrants: The upper left has the coat of arms of the pope; and the lower right has the coat of arms of Pope Julius II, who founded the guard in 1506. The other two squares bear blue, red and yellow stripes — the colors of the Pope Julius’ crest. The flag’s center is adorned with the family crest of the commander.

The pope told the commander that the corps’ leader has to be man of love, charity, humility and unity, according to the Vatican newspaper. The Gospel sense of leadership or being in command, he said, is serving others.

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