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Sistine Chapel
Sunday, 22 January 2006 

Venerable Concelebrants and distinguished Authorities,
Dear Members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard Corps,
Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,

In the Entrance Antiphon we exclaimed with the words of Psalm 96[95]: 

"O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth!...
Honour and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary"
(vv. 1, 6).

The choir then made Scarlatti's Exsultate Deo ring out beneath the wonderful vault of this Sistine Chapel. It was an invitation to glorify God on this feast day, praising and thanking him for his continuous presence among us.

The author of the Psalm was already proclaiming that before the Lord there is splendour and majesty, and that there is strength and beauty in his sanctuary.

This exclamation bursts spontaneously from our lips on this feast day, when we are gathered in prayer to sing the Lord's glory. Indeed, today's liturgy is taking place in the Sistine Chapel, where everything is an invitation to praise the greatness of Almighty God and celebrate his continuous presence among us.

In this regard, how can we not remember the teaching of a great theologian from your Country, the late Hans Urs von Balthasar? He reminded us constantly to contemplate God's glory, especially in his famous work, Herrlichkeit.

In Italy, this term is translated as "the glory of God", but Herrlichkeit is a complex word that evokes the full magnificence and splendour of Christian worship. It indicates, in other words, something wondrously beautiful and marvellous that God reveals to us. And it is something we can contemplate today in the Sistine Chapel, in this hour of grace!

Steeped in this luminous atmosphere, we then heard the words that Christ addresses to us:  "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mk 1: 15). It is an invitation to that inner renewal to which the Prophet Jonah also exhorted us in the First Reading for this Day of the Lord.
It is an invitation that the Church repeats to you to

ay, dear Swiss Guards, for every day we must purify and renew ourselves in the Service of the Lord and in faithfulness to his Holy Church. Moreover, your motto, "acriter et fideliter", "tapfer und treu" [brave and true] is a daily reminder of this programme of life.

I always remember, in this regard, the solemn oath, almost a cry, with which, every 6 May in the Vatican, you swear to "serve the Supreme Pontiff and his legitimate Successors faithfully, loyally and honourably with all your might, when necessary even sacrificing [your] life to defend them".
May this fidelity always be your motto!

Dear friends, the celebrations for the Fifth Centenary of the Swiss Guard's presence in the Vatican officially begin today. On a day like today, 22 January 1506, the first 150 Swiss Guards entered the Eternal City through Piazza del Popolo and raised their glorious flag under the command of Captain Kaspar von Silenen from the Canton of Uri.

Pope Julius II, who had insistently summoned them for this service, welcomed them with his Blessing. Thus, they were the first in the long series of generous, strong young men who chose to come here to defend the Chair of Peter.

This religious vision which inspired the first halberdiers in their service was clearly emphasized by Ulrich Zwingli himself, who in that year had not yet distanced himself from the Catholic Church. On that occasion he wrote to his friend Vadian: 
"The Swiss see the sorry situation of the Church of God, Mother of Christianity, and consider it a serious danger that every tyrant greedy for booty can attack Mother Church with impunity".

Pope Pius XII of venerable memory recalled these significant words too, when he celebrated the 450th anniversary  of  the  Swiss  Guard  in  1956 (cf. Discorsi e Radiomessaggi di Sua Santità Pio XII, Vol. XVIII, Vatican City, 1967, p. 166).

Still today, these words remind the Swiss Guards of the superior inspiration that must motivate their service, making them, with God's eyes, see every Pontiff of Rome as the principle of the visible unity of God's Holy Church.

Lastly, in this festive context I would like to invite you to thank God for the continuous assistance he gives our Holy Church, inspiring in her Pastors who, in accordance with the needs of the times, are reliable guides for believers on their journey.

At the outset there was Peter, then came Linus, Cletus, Clement and so forth, until in our day, Pope Benedict XVI:  each Pope with his own charism and his own personality.

Today, in commemorating the Fifth Centenary of the Swiss Guard, let us thank God for the gifts he granted to Pope Julius II, who, among so many other merits, decided to summon the first Swiss soldiers to Rome to be "defensores Ecclesiae libertatis" [defenders of the Church's freedom], as the same Pontiff described them.

The great spirit of this important Renaissance Pope is clearly symbolized by the figure of Moses, whom Michelangelo sculpted as his sponsor's funeral monument.

Here then, in this privileged place, everything speaks of Julius II, of Pope Giuliano della Rovere, who desired to decorate this Chapel, as he wrote, so that "it would surpass every other worldly object in size and beauty" (Bullarium Vaticanum, II, 349).

Furthermore, it is not out of place to recall that this year, 2006, is also the Fifth Centenary of the beginning of the building of the present-day St Peter's Basilica. Precisely in 1506, Julius II chose to entrust it to Bramante's genius so that the new and grandiose church would sing of God's glory for ever, on the site of the Prince of the Apostle's martyrdom.

Nor  can  one  forget  that  Julius  II was also  great  in  the  pastoral  context. He worked very hard for the interior reform of the Church and convoked the Fifth Ecumenical Lateran Council in 1512.
Moreover, he immediately concerned himself with the New World that had just been discovered by Christopher Columbus and, as early as 1511, established the first Diocese in Latin America at Santo Domingo.

Today, in gratitude for all that Julius II did in his time and for all that the Roman Pontiffs have achieved down the centuries for the defence and promotion of God's Holy Church, let us sing our heartfelt Te Deum.

Dear Members of the Swiss Guard, as a reminder of this celebration, I ask you to have ever greater love for Christ's Church. With all the more reason we can say with the Psalmist who raised his eyes in ecstasy to the city of Zion:  "Gloriosa dicta sunt de te, civitas Dei", "Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God" (Ps 87[86]: 3).

And this is the Church we too wish to love today, and this is the Church that we also wish to serve today. Amen.