Pastoral care of Swiss Guards makes for ‘unusual parish’

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Swiss Guards stand in the San Damaso Courtyard at the Vatican in this Dec 2015 file photo. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring
Swiss Guards stand in the San Damaso Courtyard at the Vatican in this Dec 2015 file photo. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring

Serving the pastoral needs of the Pontifical Swiss Guard means to care for the spiritual development of a very “unusual parish”, the guard’s chaplain said.

“My first role is to accompany them, to be both brother and father and encourage their human and spiritual growth, aware that being here in Rome, in the centre of universal Catholicism, is a unique experience for them that opens new horizons on the church,” Fr Thomas Widmer said.

The 31-year-old Swiss priest spoke to L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, on 4 May as the Swiss Guard prepared for the annual swearing-in ceremony for new recruits.

Fr Widmer was named by Pope Francis as chaplain of the Pontifical Swiss Guard in December 2015. The soldiers are responsible for guarding all entrances into Vatican City State and 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.

A Swiss Guard stands at the entrance to the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring
A Swiss Guard stands at the entrance to the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring

However, Fr Widmer said their mission isn’t limited to solely providing security but also includes “deepening their faith and to experience the church close to the Roman pontiff.”

To do this, Fr Widmer regularly gives catechesis to new recruits to help them understand the “meaning, the fidelity and the sense of giving their lives” as soldiers of the Swiss Guard.

The swearing-in ceremony held May 6 every year marks 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.

Another key aspect in the spiritual life of the Swiss Guards is in carrying out works of mercy. Volunteers often accompany Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, to prepare and distribute food to the poor and the homeless.

Through their physical and spiritual training, Fr Widmer said he hopes to develop their formation and achieve their “human and spiritual maturation”.