Pope tells new Swiss Guards to ditch phones, visit Rome

<p>A total of 34 recruits swear allegiance to Pope Francis in a traditional ceremony.</p>

A total of 34 recruits swear allegiance to Pope Francis in a traditional ceremony.

ROME – Pope Francis told the newest cohort of young men to join the Swiss Guards Monday that they should ditch their phones and get out and visit Rome, taking part in the local community.

Francis told the 34 new recruits that brought the world's smallest army back up to its full complement: "I urge you to actively and intensely cultivate community life.

"Today the habit is widespread among young people of spending their spare time along with their computers or smartphones.

And so I say to you too, young Guards: go against the grain! "It's better to use your free time for common activities, to get to know Rome, for moments of fraternity in which to recount yourselves and share things.

These experiences will build up inside of you and will accompany you for your whole lives".

The 34 recruits, raising three fingers to evoke the Holy Trinity, swore allegiance to the pope saying "I, Halberdier, swear to faithfully, loyally and honorably observe all that was read to me in this moment. May God and our Patron Saints assist me!" Of the 34, only two are native Italian speakers, while 16 are German speakers, 16 French speakers. and there were no Romansh speakers.

The guards, sporting the characteristic blue-and-orange Renaissance-style uniform, 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 elite corps is recruited from a group of Swiss towns and villages that for centuries have provided the Vatican's security watchdogs with responsibility for guarding the pope and the Apostolic Palace.

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, practicing 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.

Commenting on the new blood, Corporal Eliah Cinotti, spokesman for Francis's personal security force, said: "We'll be getting back to pre-Covid levels, its a breath of oxygen which will enable us to face the Jubilee in a more comfortable way."

The guards wore their traditional and iconic yellow blue and red Renaissance uniforms complete with armor, reputedly but apocryphally designed by Raphael or Michelangelo, but they operate more frequently in civvies and know the right end of a handgun, taser and assault rifle.

They go through rigorous retraining regimens every month.

The Guards last year got their second Filipino recruit as fully Philippine-born Sebastian Esai Eco joined Swiss-Filipino Vincent Lu', but this year they were all Swiss as is more usual.

In 2002 the Guards got their first black member when Indian-Swiss Dhani Bachmann took the age-old oath only to leave and join a Rome private security firm two years later. (ANSA)