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Swiss president meets Pope before swearing in of Vatican guards

Pope John Paul has held a private meeting with the Swiss president, Adolf Ogi, who is in Rome for the swearing in of new Swiss guardsmen at the Vatican. Ogi began his visit by holding talks with his Italian counterpart, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

The Swiss president kicked off his visit by holding talks with the Italian president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, before having a private audience with the Pope.

Ogi's meeting with Ciampi was expected to focus on the bilateral treaties between Switzerland and the European Union, as well as relations with Italy, and reconstruction work in the Balkans in the aftermath of last year's conflict.

The main purpose of Ogi's visit is to attend the swearing in of 35 new Swiss guardsmen at the Vatican. He'll be a guest at the so-called Sacco di Roma, the annual meeting of the Swiss Guards.

The ceremony traditionally marks a massacre during the sacking of Rome in 1527, in which 147 guardsmen were killed trying to protect the life of Pope Clement VII. It is also the occasion on which new members of the Guard are sworn in.

This time, the new recruits include 12 men from western Switzerland, one from canton Ticino and one from Romansch-speaking Switzerland. The rest are from German-speaking areas. Ogi will give a speech as part of the ceremony, which will highlight the importance of the Guards for Switzerland.

Shortly after the ceremony two years ago, the commander of the Guards, Alois Estermann and his wife, Gladys, were shot dead by a fellow guardsman who later committed suicide.

However, sweeping reforms within the Guards have apparently improved the "esprit de corps" and helped to relieve tension. The appointment of a new commander from French-speaking Switzerland, Jean-Daniel Pitteloud, has also improved communications between members of the Guards.

"French-speaking guardsmen had previously expressed the need to have an officer with whom the could discuss their personal problems in their mother tongue," Pitteloud said.

The Swiss Guards were formed in 1506 by Pope Julian and are presently made up of 110 members.

swissinfo with agencies

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