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New Swiss guards speak the Pope’s language

Two Swiss Guards present their flag to the new Pope Keystone

Pope Benedict XVI has held a private audience with the 30 new recruits to the Swiss Vatican Guard who took their vows of allegiance on Friday.

This content was published on May 6, 2005 - 17:19

The new members of the world’s smallest army are predominantly from the German-speaking part of the country, highlighting a recruitment problem in the French- and Italian-speaking areas.

Before the swearing-in, the recruits had a private audience with the Pope, who described the Swiss Guard as "a small army with grand ideals". He also spoke of its "glorious 500-year tradition".

The Swiss Guard was established in 1506 to ensure the protection of the pope.

The swearing-in of new members always takes place on May 6, the anniversary of the sacking of Rome in 1527 when 147 guards were killed while protecting Pope Clement VII.

Pope Benedict said that in addition to a strong Catholic faith, committed Christian lifestyle and love of the Pope, the ideal qualities of a guard were "conscientiousness and perseverance in the small and big tasks of everyday service, courage and humility, consideration for others and humanity".

Recruitment drive

Twenty-five of the new recruits are from German-speaking Switzerland, three are from the French part, while the Italian- and Romansh-speaking areas have one representative apiece.

The number of French-speaking recruits is at its lowest for seven years. Last year, seven of the 33 recruits came from French-speaking Switzerland.

Jacques Babey, the head of the association of former Swiss guards, said he was disturbed by the trend towards fewer French-speaking guards.

"To ensure a linguistic balance we would need dozens of new French-speaking guards every year," he said.

The association plans to use the 500th anniversary of the Swiss Guard next year to launch a recruitment drive in the French part of the country.

Babey said that the strict discipline in the Vatican army was off-putting for many Swiss French. But he said a stint as a guard could open the door to a career in the police.

Swiss guards are paid SFr1,800 ($1,494) a month. To join they have to be Roman Catholic, single, at least 1metre 74cm tall and be under 30.

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Key facts

The Swiss Guard has a maximum of 110 members.
Candidates have to be Swiss, Catholic, under 30 and 174cm tall.
Recruits must be single but can marry later.
Payment is SFr1,800 per month.
Guards must serve at least two years.

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In brief

The Swiss Guard was rocked by a scandal in 1998 when Commander Alois Estermann and his wife were found dead at their Vatican apartment along with the body of corporal Cédric Tornay.

An official enquiry found that Tornay had shot his superior and his wife before killing himself.

Tornay was said to have been angry at being overlooked for a medal.

Other theories suggest the involvement of outsiders in the crime.

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