Vatican City

Pope Francis swears in a new crop of Swiss guards

'Always be on look-out to help each other,' pontiff says

Pope Francis swears in a new crop of Swiss guards

(By Denis Greenan). Vatican City, May 5 - The latest batch of Swiss Guards were sworn in Monday, joining the oldest and smallest army in the world. Pope Francis told the 28 recruits they and their new comrades should "always be on the look-out to help one another in moments of weakness". "Think of your service as bearing witness to Christ, Who calls you to be authentic men and true Christians, protagonists of your existence," he said. The Argentine pontiff told his first new arrivals since becoming pope on March 13 that the Guard "carries out its duties with dedication, professionalism and love" and should always remember that "the Lord walks with you, He is always at your side to support you, especially at difficult and testing moments". In one of the small acts of kindness for which he has already become famous, Francis approached a young guard at the end of March and asked him if he had been on duty all night. Told that he had, the new pontiff promptly got a snack ready for the man despite his protestations that he had only been doing his job. The mood among the new guards was as enthusiastic as ever Monday. "I've been dreaming about this day since I was a kid," said Giuseppe Marioli, one of two native Italian speakers in the draft. "Those special soldiers struck my imagination with their strange weapons and coloured uniforms and a service that was cloaked in mystery back then. "I began to understand the reality at the academy, where the dream of my childhood was reinforced". The other Italian speaker is Carlo Casecchia who, like Marioli, comes from the Italian-speaking Canton Ticino in Switzerland. "Joining the guards is a real source of pride for me," Casecchia said. "It's something you feel deep down. "I'm looking forward to the job even though I know it will be tough sometimes". The guards' commander, Colonel Daniel Rudolf Anrig, in charge since 2008, was asked about heightened security concerns for Francis in the wake of continuing Islamist militant attacks around the world. "The media are talking a lot about threat levels being raised at this time but we've had to deal with equally complex situations in the past," he said. The Swiss Guards traditionally swear their oath of allegiance on May 6 to recall the deaths of 147 predecessors during the Sack of Rome by Emperor Charles V in 1527. Only 42 guards survived the attack and ensured that Pope Clement VII (Giulio de' Medici) escaped the ignominy of capture. Founded in 1506 by Pope Julius II, the Swiss Guards number 110. They are recruited from a group of Swiss towns and villages which for centuries have provided the pope's security watchdogs. During the Middle Ages and in Renaissance times, the Swiss had the reputation of being Europe's most reliable mercenaries - tough fighters who hardly ever changed sides. Recruitment terms are strict. Candidates have to be single males, at least 1.74m tall, practising Catholics, to have completed their compulsory military service in Switzerland and to be "of stainless character". Swiss Guards sign on for a minimum of two years. In the past the corps has been seen as a springboard for lucrative posts in some of the world's best-known security services and banks, but fewer young Swiss have been drawn to the job lately, preferring to stay in their native cantons. Part of the problem has been the salary, just over 1,000 euros a month for a raw recruit - though the Vatican is quick to stress Guards can save about 75% of their pay thanks to free digs and the city-state's famously cheap canteen, pharmacy, tailors and health services. The antique blue-and-orange uniform worn by the guards was once believed to have been designed by the great Renaissance artist Michelangelo, but historians believe this is more myth than fact.

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