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BY Edward Pentin
He has played a leading role in protecting Popes for over 43 years, but now the dean of the Swiss Guards, Major Peter Hasler, is to hang up his halberd and retire.
The commander of the Swiss Guard, Col. Daniel Anrig, paid tribute to Major Hasler, who is nicknamed in the Roman Curia as “The Pope’s Shadow” for having worked very close to four popes. Col. Anrig recalled Major Hasler’s “passionate service in guarding the Holy Father” and praised the “great sense of responsibility” he has shown in his years as Major.
La Stampa reported June 10 that Pope Benedict XVI had bestowed an honor on Major Hasler on the eve of his retirement. The dean of the Swiss Guards left office with a solemn public ceremony held in the courtyard of the Swiss quarter of Vatican City.
Major Hasler was on duty in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981, when Ali Agca fired shots at Pope John Paul II, critically wounding him. Two years ago, Major Hasler was also serving at the moment a young German tried to jump into Benedict’s popemobile as he arrived for his weekly general audience.
As well as acting as the guardian of four pontiffs, Major Hasler also served on apostolic trips, but unfortunately he won’t give interviews, preferring to remain private. “What I saw, heard and experienced is not going to put in the public domain,” he says.
The Pontifical Swiss Guard is one of the oldest armies in the world, founded in 1506 when Pope Julius II invited the Helvetian soldiers — renowned for their courage, noble sentiments and loyalty — to come to Rome.
Although highly visible thanks to their very colorful uniforms (probably not designed by Michelangelo as commonly thought, but rather influenced by Raffaello), the army is a professional security force. The Swiss Guard are armed and some operate in the background, dressed in dark suits, sunglasses and with an earpiece, similar to security services around the world.