The Courage and Fidelity of the Swiss Guard

Chaplain Gives Inside Look at Vatican Hallmark

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By H. Sergio Mora

VATICAN CITY, MAY 8, 2012 (Zenit.org).- On Sunday, 26 new recruits were sworn in to the Papal Swiss Guard.

In the presence of cardinals, bishops, exponents of the Holy See Diplomatic Corps, and the Pope’s representative, the new Swiss Guards took their solemn oath under the corps flag.

Before the oath taking, the Pope's secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, celebrated Mass for the Swiss Guard Corps at the altar of the Chair of the Vatican Basilica, explaining that “courage is necessary to give witness to the Gospel. I say it thinking of you, dear Swiss Guards, and I exhort you to do so with joy not only when you are in service, but always, in every moment and situation of your life.”

At the end of the Regina Caeli in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Benedict XVI addressed “a special greeting to the new Swiss Guards and to their families, on the day of the feast of this historic Corps.”

Interviewed by ZENIT, the chaplain of the Papal Swiss Guard, Monsignor Alain de Raemy, said that the strong point of the Guards’ spirituality is “fidelity to the Pope” and willingness to defend him even at the risk of their lives.

ZENIT: What is the spirituality of the Swiss Guard?

Monsignor Raemy: I would say that there is no specific spirituality, or only one spirituality, given that they come from very different family and parish experiences. Although they are all baptized, confirmed and recommended by their parish priests, they have very different experiences.

There are individuals who never went to Mass on Sundays and whose families weren’t practicing. However, they discovered the possibility of the Swiss Guard and wondered why they couldn’t deepen their faith. There are others, instead, who come here and are surprised because they see others who don’t have the motivation of a profound faith. Hence, we cannot have one spirituality given the many different levels.

ZENIT: So not all the recruits that enter the Swiss Grad are practicing?

Monsignor Raemy: They are aware that there is a place where normally they should be practicing Catholics. And that the Pope merits having Catholics of conviction to do this service. And it’s always been like this. Many Swiss have taken advantage of this opportunity without having necessarily a religious motivation.

ZENIT: Do they have the possibility of receiving the sacraments, etc.?

Monsignor Raemy: Sunday Mass is obligatory and attendance is controlled militarily, and they know this when they enter the service and when they submit their application. They also know that there is a chaplain who will give them religious instruction during the recruits’ schooling. In fact, they receive a formation in which I have the duty and give them a catechesis also on the ministry of Peter, the Popes and the history of the Church. An intensive catechesis that lasts for a month.

ZENIT: What are your duties as chaplain?

Monsignor Raemy: To celebrate Mass in the Guards’ chapel and to give annual Spiritual Exercises. In collaboration with the commander and other officers, I am responsible for the Corp’s cultural activities, as well as the recruitment of new guards. I am also responsible for the library. In addition, I must be close to them and know them well. They also have the Spiritual Exercises during Lent, a period when the service is more tranquil because we know there won’t be any receptions or tours of duty.

ZENIT: How long do the Spiritual Exercises last?

Monsignor Raemy: Four days of Spiritual Exercises with a preacher chosen by me. There is always a great number of confessions, including of individuals who never went to Confession, because , this happens, unfortunately, in Switzerland, given the collective absolutions and similar things. So they discover this possibility that the Church offers and the Spiritual Exercises, of which they take real advantage.

ZENIT: They are laymen but military men. How does this affect the future of their spiritual life?

Monsignor Raemy: We are the best provider of Switzerland of consecrated lives, given that the average of vocations in one or two a year. Many times persons who never imagined it when they left for Rome, become religious or diocesan priests, etc. All of them have previously done their military service in Switzerland.

ZENIT: And will these priests be very good?

Monsignor Raemy: Yes, yes, certainly, because they have heard the Pope directly and not deformed by the media; hence, they have a far more positive attitude towards the role of the Holy Father and the spiritual direction of the Pope and the Church.

ZENIT: What is the most difficult?

Monsignor Raemy: Perhaps it is that they have an attitude of obedience that often impedes them from reflecting further, and they are content with an official answer. However, at other times obedience becomes a positive attitude because they rely on the positive consequences that their faith generates. They believe that if someone is convinced of something they don’t see why one is not in agreement with one’s superiors and they apply this also to the Church.

ZENIT: These Guards are Catholics prepared to shed their blood to defend the Pope, not rhetorically but really. In their spirituality, what does this mean?

Monsignor Raemy: This is the spirituality that unites all of them. We have arrived at the crux: what unites them all in their diversity which is great, is their relationship with the Holy Father, given their oath, which is indestructible. Even if some of them might have a doubt about the faith and, after their service, not go so much to Mass, they will always feel, always, their union with the Pope and this will remain within them.

[Translation by ZENIT]