By Marina Droujinina

In an interview with L’Osservatore Romano on June 10, 2020, on the occasion of the beginning of the Summer School for recruits, Father Thomas Widmer, chaplain of the Pontifical Swiss Guard, said: “In addition to taking care of the safety and protection of the Pope’s person, it’s necessary to learn to know the Gospel and its principles. There is no improvisation in the Pontifical Swiss Guard,” he added. “There is a whole formative and spiritual course to follow with commitment and determination.”

According to a press release on June 10, the Swiss Guard confirmed that the oath-taking of 38 new guards, which should have taken place on May 6 will now take place on October 4.

However, it will be held behind closed doors and without guests, in keeping with the existing protection norms, to avoid being infected with the COVID-19 virus. Neither parents nor family members nor Swiss Authorities will attend the ceremony.

The program for Sunday, October 4, the feast of Saint Francis and feast of the Holy Father, will include Mass at 7:30 am with the recruits in St. Peter’s Basilica. At 5:00 pm the swearing-in ceremony will be held in Saint Damasus’ patio in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace. Should the weather be inclement, the ceremony will take place in Paul VI Hall.

The live television coverage and broadcasting of the event will be available on the Swiss Guard’s official Website: www.guardiasvizzera.ch

Father Thomas Widmer presented the summer school for recruits and explained its “objectives.” “It’s important that the recruits enter the service well prepared, ready to assume the tasks associated with their duties. The first part of the process is taking place now in the Vatican. In the fall, with the next recruitment school, the second part of the training will take place in the military barracks of Isone, Switzerland. Here the recruits will assimilate and deepen their abilities, always updated and necessary in regard to tactics and security, corresponding to their role in defending the Holy Father. However, it’s essential that this task be born and deepened in their hearts.”

The chaplain emphasized the faith of the new recruits. “Here we enter in the dimension of faith. In the first place, they are men, beloved, and loved by God with a mission to be discovered ever more profoundly. As chaplain, my objective is always to foster their personal experience with Jesus: to encounter and follow Him as a model of service and gift, which, in fact, gives a new quality to their lives.”

The spiritual dimension is included in the Swiss Guards’ formation and is part of the young men’s daily life. I dedicate a few hours a week, in the school, to catechesis with the new recruits. However, I think the experience of faith goes beyond these strictly formative moments: daily life in the Swiss district, in the Vatican, includes many moments of sharing in community,” he explained.

Among the priorities of the recruits’ preparation is, “on one hand, formation in security, which is their main task. Then there is an area concerned with knowledge of their place of work, individual tasks, and the carrying out of honorary services. The other part of their formation concerns the spiritual aspect,” he continued. “I try to give them the foundations of our faith and our Christian life. I think the recruitment school enables us to share personal experiences under the standard of the faith.”

In this time of health emergency, there were some changes in the Swiss Guards’ services. “ In the main, the service continued being ordinary, with small changes, for instance, the need to wear masks in the entrances of the Vatican, and the taking of temperature at the entrance of the Apostolic Palace. Instead, the honorific service was reduced to a minimum. This is related to the fact that fewer people are coming to the Vatican. The Audiences and Masses presided over by the Pope are either without or with a few faithful. I hope that the Guards will soon be able to take up the service of honor wherever possible.”

The post-pandemic of the Swiss Guards is being planned “step by step. We are adapting to the new dispositions dictated by our superiors . . . However, above all, I hope that what we have built in ourselves during the pandemic experience will encourage us to continue living in keeping with important values, such as solidarity. In this way, we will be able to advance as before and better than before,” he concluded.

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