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Memories of Serving in the Swiss Guard

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For 500 years, the Swiss Guard has served the pope and the Vatican. One region in Switzerland sends large numbers of young men to serve in Rome. A high school teacher in Naters, who served in the Swiss Guard in the 1980s, tells his story.


We turn now to a century's long tradition of young Swiss men; leaving home to join the Swiss Guard in Rome. Anyone who's ever toured the Vatican will remember the regal soldiers standing at attention, holding long pipes and resplendent in the gold and purple-striped pantaloons of an earlier era. This Sunday marks the 500th Anniversary of Pope Julius II blessing a group of Swiss mercenaries hired to protect the Vatican. Since then, countless Swiss men have followed. A great many of them coming from the Alpine Village of Naters.

Mr. TONY JOSSEN: The last hundred years we had, from our village, about a hundred Swiss Guards.

MONTAGNE: Tony Jossen spent two years in the Swiss Guard back in the 1980s. He says tracking the community's roots back to the 16th century is hard to do, but local boys get the idea of serving in Rome early on.

Mr. JOSSEN: Just as a child you see, twice a year, the former Swiss Guards in their uniforms. And we make a great procession around all through our village. And during the procession, or our march, we wear our uniforms and so we make a little bit of PR for young people to go to Rome. (laughs) So we have this great tradition.

MONTAGNE: Former Swiss Guard Tony Jossen speaking from his house in Naters, Switzerland. He teaches high school there now, and he plans to return to the Vatican this spring for swearing in of the next class of Swiss Guards.

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