Msgr. Alain de Raemy is the first Pontifical Swiss Guard Chaplain to become a bishop. And although the Corps itself in recent years became a fertile source of priestly vocations for Switzerland, no former Swiss Guard has ever been consecrated a bishop until now…
Msgr. Alain de Raemy is the first chaplain in the history of the Pontifical Swiss Guard to become a bishop. And although the Swiss Guard in recent years has produced a number of priestly vocations for Switzerland, no former Swiss Guard has ever become a bishop until now.
Msgr. de Raemy left the Corps after seven years of service to serve as an auxiliary bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg in Switzerland. His nomination arrived on November 30, 2013. He was consecrated bishop in Fribourg on January 11, becoming a titular bishop of Turris in Mauretania in today’s Algeria. He also ceased being the chaplain of the Swiss Guard.
On January 20, the Feast of St. Sebastian — one of the three patron saints of the Corps — there took place in Rome a traditional official farewell ceremony with all the military honors reserved for an officer. The event started with a solemn Holy Mass in the Aula delle Benedizioni (Hall of Blessings) in the Vatican, the same hall from the window of which the Popes give their Urbi et Orbi blessings and appear for the first time after their elections. After that there was a short military ceremony at the Cortile di Onore (Courtyard of Honor) in the Swiss Guard barracks. The ceremony was also an occasion for Bishop de Raemy to give the last homily to his guards, in which his spoke about the “DNA” of a Swiss Guard: “dedication, notice and attention,” the characteristics necessary for a truly Christian attitude towards others.
Msgr. Alain de Raemy started his service in the Corps in September of 2006 during the 500th Anniversary Year of the Swiss Guard.
He was born on April 10, 1959, in Barcelona, Spain, into a Swiss family of engineers.
He was ordained a priest on October 25, 1986. Before his service in the Swiss Guard he worked in Switzerland as a parish priest.
Before his departure from the Vatican, I spoke with Bishop de Raemy about his vocation, work and life at the Swiss Guard Corps.
Your Excellency, what is the role and the task of a chaplain in the Pontifical Swiss Guard? Have you introduced any new elements?
Msgr. Alain de Raemy: The chaplain’s role is to be a spiritual assistant to the members of the Corps in a very similar way to a parish priest. We all live in the same barracks in the Vatican, so the guards have a continuous opportunity to meet me and to talk when they need to. My predecessor trained me well. He taught me the nature of the guards’ service in the Corps and my chaplain’s duties. I developed a tradition of a farewell Mass when a guard left the Corps. I would make a little speech listing in a humorous way the guard’s qualities. In spiritual formation, there were three steps of catechesis: fundamental during the school for recruits when I explained the figure of Peter, the meaning of Peter’s ministry, of the College of the Cardinals, of religious orders and pilgrimages. I gave also a history of Rome and the meaning of the Liturgy, as not all of them were used to attending Sunday Mass regularly in Switzerland. Then, once every month or two, I would meet together with the commandant and all the members of the Corps. I had one hour and I tried to explain all the important recent events which had happened in the Church. Every Sunday after the morning and evening Mass my apartment was open for the guards to discuss a subject together. I also chose a person to guide our annual obligatory spiritual retreat during Lent.
Moreover, I was responsible for the cultural formation of the guards. I organized the visits to Rome, for example, the St. Philip Neri route through seven churches, or to the Catacombs, and to the surrounding towns: Pompeii, Subiaco, Monte Cassino, Assisi, etc.
We also visited many interesting places in the Vatican like the Fabric of St. Peter where many documents from Michelangelo onwards are preserved, or to view the renovation work on the Bernini colonnade. Together with the commandant I developed the twice-yearly visits of the Corps to important spiritual places for us: to Tours in France and to Szombathely in Hungary, the cities where St. Martin of Tours, our patron saint, was born and became a bishop. We went to Bavaria in the footsteps of Pope Benedict XVI. During the Year of Faith we went to the tomb of our national patron saint, St. Nicholas von Flüe.
In pastoral care of the guards, we must be flexible, not only following fixed structures, but also responding to the guards’ interests. For example, we are going to start a choir, because one of the new guards directed a choir back in Switzerland and there are some guards interested in singing.
The chaplain is an equivalent of a lieutenant colonel. Although I do not have any military duties, I am considered a full member of the Swiss Guard. This is a sign of how much importance is being given to the faith and the spiritual aspect and formation of the Swiss Guard in the service to the Holy Father.
How is the Chaplain chosen?
Msgr. Alain de Raemy: He is chosen by the Holy Father. Candidates from among the Swiss clergy can be proposed by the Bishops’ Conference of Switzerland.
Did you ever think you would become a Swiss Guard?
Msgr. Alain de Raemy: No, when I was 20, I didn’t even know too much about the Swiss Guard, as I was born and raised in Barcelona in Spain. When I was 15, I went back to Switzerland for high school, but even then I didn’t hear too much about the Guard.
When did you decide to become a priest?
Msgr. Alain de Raemy: It was a little bit mysterious, as I wanted to study architecture or law first, to work in the diplomatic service. Those were my two plans. I was also interested in philosophical matters, the meaning of life and the question of God. I was always a practicing Catholic. I always attended Sunday Mass without any problems. I can say that my priestly vocation was nourished by participation at Sunday Mass.
When I was in high school, I stayed at a boarding school run by the Benedictine Fathers. Perhaps also the monks’ example helped me to find my vocation. When I was about 16 to 18, the strange idea came to my mind to become a priest. I asked myself, why did I want to be a priest? I didn’t know the priests.
I had never been an altar boy nor a scout nor a member of any parish group. So, I didn’t know priestly life.
That “strange idea” was confirmed during my studies in Zurich. I tried architecture and I realized it was too technical for me. So, I changed to law which was interesting to me. But after a year, I realized I wanted to learn about the more profound meaning of life, theology and philosophy. I started to study at the Faculty of Theology in Fribourg. There I met the seminarians and reconfirmed my priestly vocation which I had felt within for some time. My first year I did as a lay person and in the second year I entered the seminary.
Your service took place mostly during the pontificate of Benedict XVI. How will you remember him?
Msgr. Alain de Raemy: With high esteem and admiration as he has been a great, humble and courageous man and theologian! He was always very close to us. He had an extraordinary memory, as does Pope Francis. I think one has to have a good memory for such a position. A regular occasion to meet with him was at the presentation of the guards and their parents at the swearing-in every May 6. Those occasions made me realize how much he knew about me and was interested in me.