Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Changing in the Guard?

Today's always one of the more colorful moments of the Vatican's annual calendar: in keeping with tradition, the anniversary of the 1527 Sack of Rome was commemorated this morning with the swearing-in of the Swiss Guard's new class of recruits -- 32 this time around.

Meanwhile, marking his first 6 May at the elite corps' helm, the Swiss' new commandant made global headlines with a televised musing that, in stark contrast to his predecessors, he could see the day when the Guard -- all male since its 1506 founding -- opens its membership to women:
Daniel Anrig, the Swiss Guard commander, said "I can imagine them (women) for one role or another. Certainly we can think about this". He was speaking on Studio Aperto, a news and current affairs programme on Italia Uno, one of the commercial channels owned by Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister.

Previous commanders have argued that female Swiss Guards would be "inappropriate", partly because of the problems posed by the lack of space in the Swiss Guard barracks inside the Vatican. However Commander Anrig said "Any problems can be resolved".

The Swiss Guard has already relaxed criteria concerning height because of recruitment problems, and has also allowed bespectacled men to become guards.
As things stand, recruits must be Swiss males between the ages of 19 and 30, "faithful" Catholics, alums of the nation's military academy and at least 174cm (5'8") tall. While guards must be unmarried on their swearing-in, senior members may seek permission to marry as spaces set aside for families open up.

In the Vatican's San Damaso courtyard every 6 May, each new recruit swears that he...
"will faithfully, loyally and honourably serve the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI and his legitimate successors, and also dedicate myself to them with all my strength, sacrificing if necessary also my life to defend them. I assume this same commitment with regard to the Sacred College of Cardinals whenever the See is vacant.

"Furthermore I promise to the Commanding Captain and my other superiors, respect, fidelity and obedience. This I swear! May God and our Holy Patrons assist me!"
Each then individually approaches the corps' banner and, holding it with one hand while raising three fingers (for the Trinity) in the other, affirms: "I, . . ., swear I will observe faithfully, loyally and honourably all that has now been read out to me! May God and his saints assist me!"

New guards have the option of taking their oath in any of Switzerland's four official languages: German, Italian, French or Romansch.

PHOTOS: Reuters