A Swiss Guard recruit takes his oath during the swearing-in ceremony for 26 new recruits in Paul VI hall at the Vatican May 6. New recruits are sworn in during a colorful ceremony at the Vatican every May 6 to commemorate the day 150 Swiss Guards died saving Pope Clement VIIas life during the sack of Rome on that date in 1527. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In an effort to boost recruitments through more modern methods of outreach, the Pontifical Swiss Guard has opened a page on Facebook.

Facebook.com/gsp1506 was launched May 4 “to open a window” and better inform young people about the “Guardia Svizzera Pontificia,” said the guard’s commander, Col. Daniel Anrig.

“We want to improve communication with young people who otherwise might not have an opportunity to find out what the Pontifical Swiss Guard really is,” he told journalists May 5, the day before 26 new guards were sworn in to service.

Currently, applications to serve are open only to Swiss male citizens who served in the Swiss Army and are Catholic, under 30 years of age, stand at least 5 feet 8 inches tall and boast an “irreproachable reputation.”

The colonel said he would love to allow female recruits, but such a move could be considered only “when the circumstances change,” specifically having more than one barracks to house the soldiers.

Guard officials have lamented a slump in applications over the years and have been looking to improve outreach, Col. Anrig said.

A former guard, Bernhard Messmer, has been hired to work on recruitment projects; he will be aided by nine other former guards who each will be in charge of a different region in Switzerland so the people “can be closer to the guards,” said the colonel.

The guard also has a video feed on YouTube at “The Corps of the Pontifical Swiss Guard.”

During an audience May 7 with Swiss Guards, new recruits and their families and friends, Pope Benedict XVI thanked the men for their service to protecting the pontiff and guarding the apostolic palace.

He said he “fervently appreciated” that young men today still choose to sacrifice a few years of their lives in complete service and dedication to the successor of Peter.

The hard work, long hours and “peculiar service” of the guard, he said, mean the soldiers have to possess unique characteristics, such as having a solid Catholic faith, loyalty and love toward the church and Jesus, “diligence and perseverance in small and big daily tasks, courage and humility, altruism and availability” to serve.

New soldiers are sworn in during a colorful ceremony at the Vatican every May 6 to commemorate the day that 150 Swiss Guards died saving Pope Clement VII’s life during the sack of Rome on that date in 1527.

Since its founding in 1506, the corps — currently numbering 110 guardsmen — performs honorary and ceremonial duties, as well as guarding the life of the pope and keeping watch over the papal palace.

Though they sport Medieval-era weaponry with their halberds and armor during colorful ceremonies, the guards are trained in the latest defense techniques, which range from the Monadnock Defensive Tactics System for controlling aggressors to martial arts and modern firearm use.

Guards who continue their service after two years qualify to train to become certified Swiss federal security experts.

— By Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service