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Swiss Guards: Serve & Protect

The most powerful weapon of the Swiss Guard

Before beginning the training regimen to become Pontifical Swiss Guards, potential recruits make a come-and-see visit to the Vatican. Leading this particular group was Alabardiere Nico Kaufmann, who guided them through the week’s activities.

“This morning, they were participating in a general audience. The potential recruits were able to witness how the Holy Father was going through Saint Peter’s Square,” Nico said.

The guards’ goal is to provide them with a closer look at what would become their duties and responsibilities.

“Two words in order to summarize the duty of a pontifical Swiss Guard: loyal and brave,” Nico reminded. “We’re here to serve Francis or his successors as well. And naturally we are here, with utmost fidelity as well, if need arises, to protect him.”

Corporal Eliah Cinotti gave EWTN insight to the men who protect the Holy Father. “For us, Swiss Guards, the protection of the Holy Father is our main mission, number one. Therefore, it means that when the Pope is in movement, those in suits and ties around him in addition to the gendarmerie, are also the Pontifical Swiss Guard.”

Anticipating danger and neutralizing threats are some of the key responsibilities in protecting the Holy Father.

Every time Pope Francis attends public events and celebrates holy Masses, whether that be abroad on Apostolic Trips or at home in Vatican City, he puts his personal safety on the line.

Eliah continued to explain, “When we go abroad especially on apostolic journeys we also go there to give support in close protection of the Holy Father. For us, it is a very special moment, but it’s also a moment where the level of attention is at its highest because when we go abroad, we aren’t on our home turf.”

Pope Francis’ desire to travel to the periphery can create many authentically beautiful but challenging moments for a security task force. Unexpected and intense situations can arise without warning. 

Nearly catastrophic moments and developments have at times made headlines with Pope Francis and other recent pontiffs.

In 2007 and 2008, attempts were made on Pope Benedict XVI, the first at the Christmas Vigil Mass, and the second on the Pope mobile in St. Peter’s Square.

It goes back even further, in November 1970, there was an attempted stabbing on Pope St. Paul VI’s life at the airport in Manila, Philippines.

And in perhaps the most infamous moment, on May 13th, 1981, Pope St. John Paul II was shot four times in St. Peter’s Square while riding in the Pope mobile.

Alabardiere Gianluca Andreato shared, “We have vowed, if it should be achieved, to give our lives for the Holy Father. And we stand behind this vow. That is what connects us all most. This oath to be able to stand on May 6th and to be able to swear not only in front of my biological family, but also in front of my guard family. That is serious.”

Leading up to the swearing-in ceremony, new recruits complete the Security Test to check their preparedness.

In this part of the examination, they practice with tasers to neutralize an assailant. Practicing safety is also of the utmost concern to avoid harming innocent tourists and pilgrims.

Gianluca described the importance of training. “The best thing I have to do when it comes to using weapons is common sense on the whole level,” he said. “Unless I have training, I shouldn’t touch a weapon because all accidents happen with loaded weapons, that is, when unloaded weapons are unknowingly loaded. It always happens in stupidity, in their negligence.”

Inside the armory of the Swiss Guard barracks, Gianluca is responsible for the maintenance of uniforms, protective gear, and weapons which the guards wear on duty and at major events such as the swearing-in ceremony, Christmas Vigil, and Easter Sunday Mass.

Gianluca provided an inside look to the barracks and the Swiss Guard armor, “We have here some special armaments. It’s not especially protective, it’s not that thick, but it has a special Saint on the front: St. Nicholas of Flüe, also called brother Klaus in German. He’s our national Saint and one of our protector Saints of the Swiss Guards. We have the breastplate. We have a back plate, then a collar that is inside, then big arm plates, they’re all strapped together with leather bands. The helmet is in the morion form. We have here the piece where feather enters and the feather goes all around till here. We have here the emblem of our Pope who founded us. Inside there is leather and nothing else. So it’s really not comfortable to wear, but Jesus suffered on the cross, we suffer with the helmet.”

Gianluca continues by showing the various rifles, uniforms, and swords. He admits though that the most potent of these cannot be found in this room, saying:

Quoting Padre Pio, Gianluca says, “The strongest weapon, his ‘machine gun,’ is the Rosenkranz, the Rosary, and it is like that. So I think we also have a weapon here that can have lethal consequences.”

On the next episode of Vaticano, we bring you to the final installment on our series on the Pontifical Swiss Guard, where we look toward the guard’s future and even further ahead to life after the guard for those finishing their service.

Adapted by Jacob Stein

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