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The Pontifical Swiss Guard, the 500-year-old elite force (if a bit oddly dressed, by today’s standards) sworn to protect Pope Benedict, are swearing-in 30 new recruits today.

Catholic News Agency reports the events were slated to begin with a Mass for the world’s smallest army, their families and friends in St. Peter’s Basilica, presided over by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State. (Every day is National Day of Prayer at the Holy See.)

The ceremony also commemorates the 147 Swiss Guards killed in 1527 while defending Pope Clement VII during the Sack of Rome. (The guards these days are probably more worried about protecting the pontiff from clergy abuse protesters than mutinous invaders — but, presumably the training remains the same.)

Recruits must be between 19 and 30 years old, faithful Roman Catholics and Swiss citizens who commit to serving at least 25 months. I wonder if any of them go on to become priests? Also, there was some speculation last year that women might be allowed to join up, but it doesn’t seem to have gone anywhere…

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