Saturday, May 05, 2007

On "Swiss Day," a Changing of the (Curial) Guard

Much of the world knows today as Cinco de Mayo -- the anniversary of the Mexican victory at Puebla in 1862. But at the Vatican, this time of the calendar commemorates another military struggle, and an earlier one to boot: the 6 May 1527 "Sack of Rome," when almost all the Swiss Guard was killed by the forces of the Holy Roman Empire, but enough remained to ensure Pope Clement VII's safe passage to Castel Sant'Angelo.

The papal corps -- only 20 years into its Roman service at the time -- observes the Sack as its holiday, recalling it as proof of its loyal service to the Popes, even to the final sacrifice. New members are sworn in, pledging their lives if necessary in the defense of the Holy See, and the entire corps is received by the reigning pontiff, whose coat of arms is incorporated into the guards' banner, which new recruits hold when taking their oaths.

It also happens to be Saturday, the day most appointments in the Roman Curia come down from the papal apartment. And so it was today, as Benedict XVI shuffled 67 year-old Archbishop Edward Nowak from the secretary's post at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and naming him as Assessore of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre and a canon of St Peter's Basilica. Taking the place of Nowak -- a member of John Paul II's Polish circle who's served at the Saint-making dicastery since 1990 -- is someone even older: Italian Msgr Michele Di Ruberto, 70, a veteran of over three decades at the congregation, and most recently its under-secretary. Keeping with standard practice, Di Ruberto now becomes an archbishop.

Nowak's transfer has been foreseen in the Italian press for some months, with earlier reports saying that he would be sent to minister to Rome's Polish community, based at S. Stanislao's church. While that didn't pan out, today's move marks Benedict's sixth major personnel shift in the curia's top ranks, with more expected to come in short order.

The Pope also named two new "auditors" (judges) to the Roman Rota, the Vatican's second-highest appellate court, including one jurist imported from the nunciature in Madrid.

In his audience with the Swiss Guard this morning, the pontiff praised the corps for its "long history of faithful and generous service" to his predecessors and the church at large. Benedict also drew upon the guard's code to remind members old and new that, in their conduct, they must "avoid that which contrasts with the faith, Christian morals, with a simple and sober way of life." The rules aren't so much strictures, he said, but a guide to help "bring to completion the design God has for each one of you."

"The Lord calls you to holiness," Benedict exhorted his guards, "to be his disciples, always ready to listen to his voice, to fulfill his will and to realize it in the daily accomplishment of your duties. This will help make of you 'good Christians' and at the same time 'exemplary soldiers,' animated by that evangelical spirit which makes each of the baptized a 'leaven' to uplift the rest and a 'light' that shines and warms in the places you live and work."