Cardinal Parolin: Renovated barracks will help Swiss Guards better carry out mission
By Salvatore Cernuzio
The Swiss Guard Barracks in the Vatican is a building of undoubted historical value, dating back to the pontificates of Pius IX (1846-1878) and Pius XI (1922-1939. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The building is being renovated to ensure greater comfort for the members and families of the world's smallest army.
On Wednesday morning, in the Hall of Treaties in the Apostolic Palace’s First Loggia, the announced Memorandum of Understanding between the Holy See’s Secretariat of State and the "Foundation for the Renovation of the Papal Swiss Guard Barracks in the Vatican" was signed.
Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin signed the document on Wednesday. On the part of the Holy See, he was present for the signing of the Act, together with the Secretary-General of the Governorate of Vatican City State, Sister Raffaella Petrini, Monsignor Luigi Roberto Cona, Councillor for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State, and Dr. Fabio Gasperini, Secretary-General of APSA. Representing the Foundation were Mr. Jean-Pierre Roth and Mr. Stephan Kuhn, respectively President and Vice President; Mr. Denis Knobel, Ambassador of the Swiss Confederation to the Holy See; Colonel Christoph Graf, Commander of the Swiss Guard.
The document was signed in the context of the celebrations for the swearing-in of 36 new recruits scheduled to take place in the Saint Damasus Courtyard on 6 May, the day on which the 147 guards who fell during the "Sack of Rome" in defense of Clement VII are commemorated. The start of work on the Barracks will take place at the end of the Jubilee celebrations of 2025.
Massimiliano Menichetti, head of Vatican Radio/Vatican News, asked Cardinal Parolin how this signing came about:
Cardinal Parolin: The signing of the Protocol represents an important stage of a path undertaken at the end of 2016, aimed at upgrading the properties that make up the current barracks, to adapt them to the new housing standards and also according to ecological criteria. To this end, a Foundation was set up in Switzerland which, in agreement with the Authorities of the Holy See, presented a preliminary project to the Holy Father in October 2020.
The pandemic offered additional time for reflection. It was thus decided that it would be difficult to envisage starting work before the Jubilee of 2025. At the same time, the decision was taken to further elaborate the preliminary project in light of the historical, artistic and landscape constraints to which the Barracks are subjected, without neglecting the obligations that derive from the Holy See's inclusion of Vatican City in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Q: What is the value of the Memorandum of Understanding?
The Memorandum of Understanding is a declaration of intent aimed at clearly orienting the steps to be taken subsequently. One could say that today's signature constitutes a true and proper restart after the pause imposed by Covid and the decision to place this Act in the context of the solemn celebrations of the oath of the new Swiss Guards expresses, in a very concrete way, how much we care about the Swiss Guard Corps and the precious service that it has been carrying out for almost 500 years to protect the Holy Father.
Q: The entire Vatican City has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984, and there are many historical and artistic links. What will be the next steps?
First of all, we will devote ourselves to perfecting the preliminary project. This is necessary because of the historical value of the current barracks, whose buildings date back to the pontificates of Pius IX and Pius XI.
In this sense, an essential element will be the preservation of the external facades, as well as the height constraint imposed by Bernini's Colonnade. A further element is represented by the need to protect and enhance the important surrounding monuments, I refer in particular to the “Passetto” in the Borgo with its “Porta Sancti Petri”, and the archaeological evidence of a Roman necropolis in the basement of the barracks.
Even if 2026 seems a long way off, the steps to be taken require a roadmap that will have to include approval of the final project and, in compliance with the Vatican law on transparency and the Code of Contracts, the awarding of the works and the opening of the building site with the consequent temporary relocation of the Guard.
Q: Will the costs for the renovation of the barracks be covered entirely by donors?
Yes, the support of the Swiss people for the new barracks project has so far been characterized by great generosity. To date, most of the sum provided by the Foundation has been secured in the form of gifts and contractual promises of donations.
The Holy See thanks the Federal Council of the Swiss Confederation, the Cantons, the ecclesial communities as well as the numerous foundations and private donors for their commitment. Our gratitude also extends to all those who have worked and will continue to work to animate the fundraising campaign, in the knowledge that this effort will make it possible to provide the Guard, its families and all those who assist it with better housing conditions for the pursuit of their noble mission.
"The renovation of the Barracks is a necessity," echoes the president of the Foundation, Jean-Pierre Roth. "The main buildings of the Barracks do not offer enough space to house the guards and their families and have high maintenance costs. They need extensive renovation to meet the needs of the guards and current environmental standards. This project is essential to maintain an efficient security service for the Holy Father and the Apostolic Palace."
The idea to renovate the Guard's barracks began to materialize in 2017-2018, when the Foundation had the Basel-based engineering firm Schnetzer-Puskas examine the conditions of the current buildings.
In 2019-2020, the Foundation commissioned the architectural firm Durisch & Nolli of Massagno to prepare the project, which was financed together with the Secretariat of State and the Governorate.
On 2 October 2020, the preliminary project was presented to the Pope and delivered to the Secretariat of State, as a symbolic gesture on the Centenary of the resumption of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Swiss Confederation.
A Patronage Committee in Switzerland has been in charge of fundraising in recent years: "The response of the Swiss population has been extraordinarily generous and positive despite the circumstances," says the Committee's president, Doris Leuthard, expressing confidence that "we will be able to raise the remaining funds in the coming months. This demonstrates the attachment of the Swiss population to the Swiss Guard and its role in the defense of the Holy Father".
Great satisfaction has also been expressed by the Swiss Guards themselves. "The new Barracks will significantly improve the quality of our life: more privacy and at the same time more community life," says the spokesman, Deputy Corporal Manuel von Däniken. "The renovation opens up new perspectives for the active guards and I believe that it will motivate young men to perform and significantly extend their service to the Pope."