Swiss Guard Celebrates 505th Anniversary

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 23, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The Swiss Guard celebrated its 505th anniversary on Saturday with a Mass celebrated in Santa Maria della Pietà in Camposanto Teutonico, located in Vatican City.

Archbishop Fernando Filoni, the substitute of the Secretariat of State, presided at the Mass and conveyed Benedict XVI's greetings during the homily.

The archbishop then observed that "the Lord addresses the invitation to follow him to everyone, and he calls some to share and to collaborate in his mission, entrusting a special task to each one."

"For this reason," he added, "serving the Holy Father, in a special way you participate in the Church’s universal mission. May that give you renewed spirit in fidelity and service."

After the Mass, a parade was held in St. Peter’s Square with flags and a band, to commemorate the founding of the group.

The Swiss Guard, commanded by Colonel Daniel Rudolf Anring, is composed of 110 soldiers and a chaplain, Monsignor Alain Guy Raemy. Its founding is owed to Pope Julius II della Rovere (1503-1513), who 500 years ago asked the states of the "Confederatis Superioris Allemanniae" to permit the recruitment of young Swiss men for a papal guard.

On Jan. 22, 1506, this Pontiff welcomed and blessed the first contingent of 150 Swiss Guards led by Captain Kaspar von Silenen in St. Peter's Square.

The recruits must be Catholic Swiss males between 19 and 30. They must be over 5 feet 7 inches tall, single, and have had basic military training.

Even if the tradition says that Michelangelo conceived their uniforms, in reality the present design dates back to 1915.

The traditional ceremony of swearing in the new recruits is held on May 6 every year to commemorate the sacrifice in 1527 of 147 Swiss Guards who, who during the sack of Rome by the troops of Charles V, defended Pope Clement VII with their lives.