VATICAN CITY — The commander of the Pontifical Swiss Guard says the group of soldiers charged with protecting the Pope is on high alert and ready to act if any threat from the Islamic State group materializes.
“We are ready to intervene. Our job is security, and as gendarmes, we are well organized. We are ready if anything happens,” said Cristoph Graf.
At age 54, Graf is married with two children. Yet he and the other members of the Swiss Guard are willing to lay down their lives to protect the Holy Father.
In an interview with the Italian daily newspaper Il Giornale, published on Feb. 18, Graf responded to threats from Islamic militants, who stated in a recent video, “We will conquer Rome.”
“We have asked the guards to be on higher alert, to watch how people are moving. We can’t do more than that,” Graf said.
The Swiss Guard was established by Pope Julius II in 1506.
Its first real test came on May 6, 1527, during the sack of Rome, when 147 Swiss Guards died fighting against the troops of Emperor Carlos V to allow Pope Clement to escape. The few dozen guards that survived escorted the Holy Father to safety.
In memory of that day, new Swiss Guards are sworn in on May 6 each year, taking an oath to defend the pope with their very lives.
Graf also stressed the importance of information to prevent potential attacks. He referenced the Jan. 7 massacre at the headquarters of a French newspaper that had published offensive images of the Prophet Muhammad.
“What happened in Paris could happen here, and it cannot be prevented without intelligence based on accurate information,” he said.
Reflecting on his own appointment as commander of the Swiss Guard, Graf said, “The Pope asked me if I was willing, and I could have said ‘No.’ But I think this is a mission, and I answered, ‘Yes,’ because I see this as the Lord’s work. I know there are several crosses to carry, but I trust in God’s help.”
Asked if the Holy Father is afraid, he replied, “I don’t think the Pope is afraid of anything. … Anything can happen, but you can see that he is not afraid.”
Commenting on the future of the Swiss Guard, the commander said that there may be difficulty in recruiting new members but that it will ultimately “depend on the situation of the Church and the faith and on the issue of the low birth rate.”