Serving the Pope: Sts. Peter and Paul Association at 50
With a youth division, formation and service are central to this apostolate.
At the Vatican, the historic Sts. Peter and Paul Association is celebrating its 50th anniversary and its 10th anniversary of the founding of its youth-formation group this year.
The association is the only lay association based in the Vatican and was referred to by St. John Paul II as “The Association in the Pope’s House.” It is a volunteer organization, already engaged in various activities of service and fidelity to the Holy See and the pope. In addition, the Allievi Group, the youth section of the association, forms many young Catholics living in Rome.; and since 2010, more than 70 young people have joined the training and service projects.
Members give a particular testimony of Christian life, apostolate and fidelity to the Holy See through various cultural, charitable and service activities, mainly in St. Peter’s Basilica and on the occasion of papal liturgical celebrations.
The History of the Association
The Sts. Peter and Paul Association was founded in 1971 by St. Paul VI after the dissolution of the papal armed corps by the same pope in 1970, in order to carry over the legacy of the Palatine Guard of Honor of His Holiness.
The Palatine Guard of Honor was established by Blessed Pius IX, on Dec. 14, 1850, unifying the preexisting corps of the “Urban Militia” and the “Selected Civic Guard.” The new Palatine Guard was “destined to the service of the Sacred Person of His Holiness.”
Many changes took place in the Palatine Guard during its 120 years of existence up to the last years before its dissolution in 1971, in which, together with the service of representation in uniform, a plain-clothes service was added during papal ceremonies.
With the establishment of the Sts. Peter and Paul Association, the association underwent its definitive transformation from a military corps to a civil service, reporting directly to the Secretariat of State. The association is headquartered in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, from which the Pope delivers the Angelus on Sundays.
The Heart of the Association
The chapel inside the headquarters, described by St. John Paul II as “the heart of the Association,” was built in the early post-war years, thanks to the interest of St. Paul VI, then-Archbishop Giovanni Battista Montini, who was the substitute of the Secretariat of State during the Pontificate of Pius XII.
The chapel was consecrated on June 15, 1947, by Bishop Alfonso de Romanis, sacristan of the Holy Father and vicar general for Vatican City State. In 1951 architect Vittorio Trainini was commissioned to fresco the vault of the apse with some scenes from the life of St. Peter, to whom the chapel is dedicated.
The whole chapel was renovated in 2014. After several months, on Oct. 12, 2014, once the restoration and renovation work was complete, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin consecrated the chapel’s new altar.
Today, other spaces of the association, such as the conference rooms, are being renovated and will be inaugurated this year for the 50th-anniversary celebration.
The History of the Youth Group
The youth group, known as the Allievi Group, open to boys ages 15 to 20, is not new to the Vatican. In the past, a formation group already existed, called the “Boys’ Group,” which was the youth section of the Palatine Guard of Honor. The group was organized to deliver religious formation and was characterized by a strong, military-like spirit of discipline that would later serve the boys in their duties of service to the pope.
In more modern times, after the dissolution of the Palatine Guard and the establishment of the association, the need for such a youth group did not diminish. So, 10 years ago, in 2010, the idea of reconstituting the group was promoted by many senior members of the current association who, many years before, had taken part in the Boys’ Group in the Palatine Guard of Honor.
“Times have changed from the Boys’ Group of the Palatine Guard, but not the ideals and objectives, which can be widely defined as a forerunner of the current Allievi Group of the association,” said Giulio Salomone, the association’s official historian.
A community that educates the younger generations is strengthened for the future.
The Allievi Group’s Formation
The educational process of the Allievi Group does not copy the old “Boys’ Group,” but proposes a new, more modern formative path, suited to the new challenges of life for the new generation.
Msgr. Joseph Murphy, spiritual assistant of the association and founder of the Allievi Group, said that “an educational proposal was needed that reflected the current identity of the association in order to respond to the needs of our times.”
In the Allievi Group, the formation journey is developed over three years, alternating moments of catechetical formation, meetings on psycho-aptitude development, cultural conferences, formation and liturgical service to the pope, excursion activities and charity work.
Before embarking on the three-year training period with the association, the students have already received traditional catechetical training in their parishes in order to receive the sacraments. It is common that after receiving first Communion and confirmation, the number of children who participate in parish life or in Mass is often drastically reduced. Therefore, the association has reproposed, with more discipline and unity, further integral human formation.
In the first year of catechesis, besides liturgical formation and an introduction to the figure of Jesus by reading the Gospel, a course on the fundamentals of moral life and a course on the relationship between Christian life and prayer are presented, highlighting the filial bond between man and God. The second- and third-year students, on the other hand, participate in courses on the Creed of the Church, the Ten Commandments and the sacraments.
During the years of formation, they are available to serve the pope’s liturgical celebrations, which enables an opportunity to get to know him, serve him and pray with him. This is a bond that is developed with Peter’s successor that continues even when they become association members and faithfully serve him in the service. At the end of their three-year formation, they can ask to make the promise to serve the pope for life by becoming official members of the Sts. Peter and Paul Association.
"To share with other young people the association life, meetings of spiritual and liturgical formation, recreational meetings, and, in particular, sharing in the spirit of service to the Church, bonds us together even outside the association and makes us feel like brothers," said Giacomo Chimirri, 23, a third-year student, who will finish the formation path to become a member of the association this year.
Msgr. Murphy said that, “thanks to the commitment of the leaders, formators and Allievi alumni, many young people have grown within the group, built strong friendships with their peers and today make a valuable contribution to the association’s operations.”
Some of the trainees, after completing their training and becoming members become formators, and the people in charge of the various courses are chosen from among the members of the association; members undergo continuous periods of formation according to the superiors in order to always improve the quality of the training and faith formation.
“The group has renewed my faith by teaching me how to live Christianity in a much more proactive and original way, both interiorly and in society,” said Andrea Taloni, alumnus and now one of the formators.
Stefano Milli, the president of the association, said that “having created within Vatican City a training point catered to young Catholics, with its own activities, solid projects and pedagogically modern characteristics, must represent a further reason for joy and pride for all of us.”
Andrea Barvi is a freelance journalist
and collaborates with the Italian Parliament.