VATICAN CITY – 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.
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, Anrig said.
A former guard, Bernhard Messmer, has been hired to work on recruitment projects.
Messmer 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 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 characteristics, such as having a solid Catholic faith, loyalty and love toward the Church and Jesus.
They must also possess "diligence and perseverance in small and big daily tasks, courage and humility, altruism and availability" to serve, he said.
New soldiers are sworn in at the Vatican every May 6 to mark the day that 150 Swiss Guards died saving Pope Clement VII's life during the sack of Rome on that date in 1527.