Suche innerhalb des Archivs / Search the Archive All words Any words

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[] Vatican Swiss Guard using the media to attract recruits

Mal was für die Rubrik "Absurdes". :-)

Vatican Swiss Guard using the media to attract recruits

September 30, 2005 Edition 1

By Douwe Miedema

The Guard has overcome the shock of a double murder and suicide in 1998 and now things seem to be looking upwards for the Pope's squad

Cheap holidays in Rome and a flashy Web site are just two of the weapons in the armoury of the 500-year-old Vatican Swiss Guard to lure new recruits. And it seems to be working.

Television pictures of the guards in their unusual uniforms and bearing mediaeval weapons were beamed across the world after the death of Pope John Paul II, giving the Vatican's gatekeepers a rare place on the world's front pages.

The publicity has been so successful, they are now turning candidates away.

It is a far cry from just a few years ago when a shooting scandal, low wages and harsh working conditions combined to drive down interest and drag the Guard to crisis point.

"There have been problems for decades, but it's been better in the last couple of years. One of the reasons definitely is a better presence in the media," said Elmar Maeder, who commands the world's smallest army.

Former members of the Guard paraded the streets of Lucerne in Switzerland last weekend, commemorating the fact that 150 Swiss mercenaries marched to Rome exactly 500 years ago to form the Swiss Guard's first generation under Pope Julius II.

In their trademark blue-and-yellow uniforms often said to be designed by Michelangelo - although in reality crafted by a former commander of the Guard in 1914 - they were living proof of the Pontifical squad's rich tradition.

To keep that heritage alive, the 110-strong army needs 30 to 40 recruits each year. Most recruits serve a minimum of two years, though some do stay longer.

Those wanting to join can check out the Web site which promotes the pleasures of a couple of years in Rome and tells candidates they can test the waters by spending a few days with the Guard inside the Vatican for $194 all-in.

The rising numbers of recruits shows the Guard has overcome the shock of a double murder and suicide in 1998 - just as it rode out a massacre in 1527, the ending of the Pope's worldly rule in 1870 and a round of cost-cutting a century later. In the incident seven years ago, an officer shot dead the commander of the group, the commander's wife and then himself, apparently disgruntled he had been passed by for a medal before he left the service.

A hasty statement by the Vatican that the killer had acted in a fit of rage led to speculation the Holy See was covering up some unwelcome secret. But none of the rumours, including suggestions of covert liaisons, were ever substantiated.

The scandal, however, led to a revamp of the Pontiff's army, which now boasts a professional media approach, management training and improved
recruitment and on-the-job education.

Recruits must be Swiss and, obviously, Catholic. They must be single, no older than 30 and at least 1,74 metres tall.

Their feathered helmets, sabres and halberds - a weapon designed for a footman to knock a knight off his horse and slash through his armour - belie the fact they are well-trained soldiers, who normally carry automatic rifles.

Recruits must have completed basic training in the Swiss army and get further schooling within the Vatican's walls and again in Switzerland.

The Guard is the only foreign army Switzerland allows its people to serve in, a relic of the country's long tradition of exporting soldiers. A special law says the Pope's squad is a police service, not a military force.

There were times when the job was actually dangerous. The Guard suffered its biggest loss shortly after its creation, when 147 members died in the 1527 sacking of Rome. But the surviving members did what they were paid to do - they saved the life of Pope Clement VII.

A willingness to die for the Pontiff has always been a hallmark of the Guard. But most ex-members in Lucerne said they had not been driven to Rome by religious conviction.

"That wasn't necessarily my first reason to go. I wanted to be away from home for a while, do something different," said Josef Lischer, a Guard member between 1979 and 1982.

Still Guard members do get the chance to exchange the occasional word with the Pope and Maeder has used his privileged position to form his own opinions about Pope Benedict.

--------------------------------------------------------------------- To unsubscribe, e-mail: infowar - de-unsubscribe -! - infopeace - de For additional commands, e-mail: infowar - de-help -! - infopeace - de