Pope encourages Swiss Guard to foster friendships, avoid isolation

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Meeting members of the Swiss Guard, including 34 new recruits, Pope Francis thanked them for their dedication and generous service protecting the pope every day.

He told them they stand out for their professionalism and their "kind, attentive, indeed scrupulous style," during an audience at the Vatican May 6, ahead of the swearing-in ceremony for the new guards later that day. Family members of the new recruits were also present at the audience.

The men have built "a positive and respectful atmosphere in the barracks," the pope said, and they show great courtesy toward "superiors and guests, despite sometimes long periods of intense and strenuous service."

Pope Francis encouraged them to continue to foster friendships and camaraderie.

Serving in the Swiss Guard, an enlistment that lasts at least two years, means it is "an important and formative time for you," he said. "It is not just a period of work, but a time of living and relating, of intense fellowship in a diverse company."

"I urge you to actively cultivate community life," the pope said, asking them to reject the habit among many young people today of spending their free time online and alone.

"It is better to use your free time for activities with others, for getting to know Rome, for moments of fraternity in which you talk about yourselves and share, for sports," he said.

"These experiences build you up from within and will accompany you throughout your life," he said.

Earlier in the day, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, celebrated Mass with the guards in St. Peter's Basilica.

The colorful swearing-in ceremony of new recruits is held May 6 to mark the date in 1527 when 147 Swiss Guards lost their lives defending Pope Clement VII in the Sack of Rome. Only 42 guards survived. Holding the ceremony on the anniversary is meant to remind new guards of the seriousness of their commitment.

New recruits pledge to "faithfully, loyally and honorably" serve and protect the pontiff and, if necessary, sacrifice their lives for him.

Today, the more than 130 Swiss soldiers are responsible for guarding all entrances into Vatican City State as well as keeping watch over the pope and his residence in the Domus Sanctae Marthae. They also provide security and ceremonial services during liturgical events and visits of heads of state and other dignitaries to the Vatican.