Thirty-four new recruits were sworn into the Swiss Guard on Monday at the Vatican, becoming part of the world’s smallest army, according to ABC News.

The men promised to protect Pope Francis and future popes with their lives, and they also showed off their ability to march and stand at attention.

They wore their “ceremonial red, yellow and blue Renaissance-style uniforms fitted with 33 pounds of helmet and armor” throughout Monday’s event, ABC News reported, noting that there are now 135 total guards.

A Pontifical Swiss guard looks on as a man raises a Swiss flag in the St. Damasus courtyard ahead of the arrival of Switzerland's President Viola Amherd for private audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican, Saturday, May 4, 2024. | Andrew Medichini

What is the Swiss Guard?

The Swiss Guard has been around since 1506, when Pope Julius II embraced the idea of having a special protection force.

Then, as now, members of the unique army worked to protect “the pope and his residence,” according to the Swiss Guard’s website.

But what those protection services look like has changed quite a bit over time.

In the past, the members of the Swiss Guard sometimes had to fend off violent attacks on the Vatican.

Today, they mostly meet with tourists, although some visitors do make uncomfortable demands.

“The role requires an instinct for distinguishing real threats from encounters with people who just need a word of consolation — many come to the Vatican gates looking for work, others insist on meeting the pope. More still believe themselves to be St. Peter or Jesus Christ in person and demand to be listened to. A few attempt suicide,” Religion News Service reported.

When Pope Francis goes into St. Peter’s Square, such as during his Wednesday morning general audiences, members of the Swiss Guard act like members of the U.S. Secret Service, carefully monitoring the crowd.

“The guards, in civilian clothes and armed with guns and tasers, are never far away,” per Religion News Service.

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Swiss Guard requirements

If those job duties sound fun to you, then you might be sad to hear that very few people meet the requirements to become a Swiss Guard recruit.

Still up for the challenge? Here are some of the criteria that recruits have to meet, according to ABC News and Religion News Service.

  1. Are you male? If so, keep going.
  2. Are you single? Guards aren’t allowed to be married until they’ve served for five years.
  3. Are you between the ages of 19 and 30? Recruits are all pretty young.
  4. Are you at least 5 feet, 8 inches tall? Congrats, you can keep going.
  5. Are you Catholic? It’s safe to assume Catholics are most committed to protecting the pope.
  6. Are you physically capable of working on your feet for six, 12 or even 16 hours at a time? Please proceed.
  7. Can you carry around 33 pounds of equipment while doing that work? Those fancy helmets are quite heavy.
  8. Are you willing to commit at least two years to the service? Recruits are asked to sign up for two years, although many end up leaving after six months for other security jobs, per Religion News Service.
  9. Are you from Switzerland? Oh, did I forget to say that all recruits have to actually be Swiss?
  10. Have you completed your compulsory military service? Young men can only become part of the Swiss Guard if they’ve already served the country of Switzerland.

It’s safe to say that no American reader would make the cut.

Swiss Guard ceremony

The swearing-in ceremony for the Swiss Guard took place on Monday because May 6 is an important date for the service.

May 6, 1527, was the day that 147 guardsman lost their lives protecting Pope Clement VII from “German mercenaries hired by Charles V, the Habsburg monarch of Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor,” according to Religion News Service.

Fewer than 50 guardsman survived, but they were able to keep the pope safe.

“The swearing-in ceremony, which occurs every year on May 6, commemorates that sacrifice by the Swiss Guards,” Religion News Service reported.