The work of Vatican Swiss Guards — the order that has been entrusted with securing the safety of the pope for centuries — entails that, if you don’t notice them, they’re doing their job well. But now through the middle of January, the life of the Vatican Swiss Guard will be the center of attention at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Downtown Los Angeles through a first-ever art exhibit featuring exclusive photographs of the soldiers donning their uniforms, weapons and armor.
The exhibit was inaugurated at the Vatican this past spring by Pope Francis as part of his proclaimed Jubilee Year of Mercy, and was curated by the Patrons Office and Father Mark Haydu under the supervision of Dr. Romina Cometti. It was unveiled to the public at the cathedral Dec. 5, and was introduced the day before as part of a sneak preview for the media. Much of the exhibit is comprised of the photographs of Fabio Mantegna, who followed the Vatican Swiss Guard intermittently for more than two years.
“The idea of an exhibition with photographs that represent the daily life of the Swiss Guard entered in mind as soon as I had the chance of looking at the photographs that Fabio Mantegna started taking two-and-a-half years ago,” explained Cometti. “The photographs were so different and wonderful because they were showing the feelings the private and unseen life of the guards, respectfully and gently portrayed. This exhibit is not a celebration of uniforms and exterior beauty; it is a private view on a more intimate beauty: the beauty of daily life, private smiles and faith.”
In attendance along with Cometti during the sneak preview were Father David Gallardo, who performed a blessing of the exhibit, and former Vatican Swiss Guard Andreas Widmer, who delivered a gripping testimony to the crowd on hand about his experiences protecting the pope.
“My first experiences as a Swiss Guard were awe-inspiring: putting on the uniform for the first time, being in the Sistine Chapel by myself, and meeting the Holy Father,” said Widmer, who now serves as the director of Entrepreneurship Programs at the Catholic University of America. “I invite you not only to look at these images, but to step across and enter the perspective of the Swiss Guard. We represent a ministry, faith and tradition.”
It is Cometti’s hope that the photographs will help accentuate that “faith” aspect of the Vatican Swiss Guard’s responsibilities for those who visit the cathedral to view them.
“I am fascinated by their history and commitment; their daily sacrifice in taking care of the security of the Holy Father and the infinite kindness every day shown to tourists and the workers of the Vatican,” stated Cometti. “They are always there, watching and standing still in their guard duties. They know that they represent the Vatican for all the visitors and for the many pilgrims who come to attend the papal audience every Wednesday.
“My task,” she continued, “is not only a celebration of photography about the Swiss Guard, but also a celebration of the faith, which characterized the only and sole peaceful army in the world, an army who is protecting and taking care of our beloved Pope Francis, but also took care for centuries of so many popes.”