As 33 new Swiss Guards prepare to take an oath Sunday, the entire army 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 as part of the process.
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.
Instead, 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 CNA.
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.
The announcement about upping the number of members in the world’s smallest-but-oldest standing army comes just a few days before the formal swearing-in ceremony May 6, when this year’s recruits will take an oath to protect and defend the pope.
The ceremony follows a full weekend of events, which are attended by representatives of the Swiss army, Swiss government, and Swiss bishops’ conference. Family and friends of the guards, as well as former guards who return for a visit, also participate.
One of these events was a meeting between Pope Francis at the Pontifical 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.
At a May 4 press conference after the audience, Commander Graf also unveiled a new light-weight helmet of the Guard, which instead of being constructed of metal, is made of PVC and 3D printed.
This year’s swearing-in weekend schedule also included Vespers May 5 in the church of Santa Maria della Pieta in the Vatican’s Teutonic College and afterward, the “deposition of the crown” ceremony in commemoration of the guards who died during the Sack of Rome.
Before the swearing-in ceremony May 6, the guards will attend Mass with Cardinal Pietro Parolin in St. Peter’s Basilica and a concert in the Swiss Guard quarters.
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!”
The official swearing-in ceremony takes place each year on the anniversary of the May 6, 1527 battle that is known as the Sack of Rome, when 147 guards lost their lives defending Pope Clement VII from the army of the mutinous Holy Roman Empire.
During the battle, the pope was able to escape from the Vatican to Castel Sant’Angelo via a secret passageway connecting the two. It is the most significant and deadly event in the history of the Swiss Guard.