DAILY CATHOLIC WEDNESDAY May 6, 1998 vol. 9, no. 88
NEWS & VIEWS
LAST INTERVIEW WITH SLAIN SWISS GUARD LEADER
Alois Estermann, 43, was appointed by Pope John Paul II as commandant of the Swiss Guard on May 4, just hours before he was killed-- apparently by an unhappy subordinate.
Prior to his appointment, Colonel Estermann had served for several months as the acting director of the Swiss Guard, which is responsible for the security of the Pope and the Vatican.
Just prior to his formal appointment as commandant, Colonel Estermann was interviewed by the Rome news agency I Media. This interview, originally conducted in French, appears here in translation exclusively through Catholic World News.
Q: What are your thoughts, just a few hours before your appointment?
A: I am very well acquainted with the work itself, having been exercising the various responsibilities of the position already. So there will be great surprises for me. On the other hand, I am deeply honored by this appointment-- which is a formal pontifical appointment.
Q: What will be your main plans for action?
A: Any leader must set objectives for his men to reach, and then help them to achieve those goals. The standing orders set out our duties, and we shall do everything possible to fulfill them-- in other words, to serve well.
Q: Are there certain particular points on which you will insist?
A: I wish to follow in the footsteps of my predecessor, Colonel Ronand Buchs. I will insist on professionalism in the Swiss Guard. That will mean instilling among our men a strong motivation, and a desire to be professional soldiers-- with that phrase in capital letters! That in turn means carrying out one's responsibilities in every possible situation, and it means understanding the importance of working for the Holy See and the Holy Father.
Q: How would you explain the current problems that you are having in recruiting new members for the Swiss Guard?
A: Yes, we have had some problems during the last two years. In part they can be explained in terms of the somewhat difficult economic situation in Switzerland. But it also must be said that service to the Church is seen as less desirable than it was some years ago. You must keep in mind the general situation in Switzerland, regarding anything that concerns Rome and the Holy Father. [In recent months, dissident Swiss Catholics have been outspoken in their criticism of the Vatican.] That doesn't help us, either.
Q: Do you think that more should be done to improve the image of the Swiss Guard in Switzerland itself?
A: It is certainly necessary to find other ways of motivating young men to join. That is always a challenge. But the Swiss Guard is not a product which can be sold on the basis of a month-long publicity campaign. We are constantly looking for a steady stream of new personnel. It is a question of providing information, and of active recruitment.
Q: Will this be one of your priorities?
A: Without doubt, yes; this is a top priority.
Q : Is it true that during this past summer, students and seminarians were called in to fill out the ranks of the Swiss Guard during vacations?
A: There is an auxiliary service. When the Holy Father is at Castel Gandalfo [his summer residence], we cannot afford to reduce our ranks significantly here at the Vatican. So we have the option of signing up auxiliaries-- students who come here from Switzerland during their vacations in order to serve. It is possible that some of these auxiliaries may be theology students, but that is certainly not a rule. This summer, however, we should be able to do without any auxiliaries.
Q: Your formal appointment has been scheduled just two days before the date when new recruits will take their oath. Isn't this a bit of a last-minute decision?
A: Well, I don't have all the details about the process that led up to my appointment. But no doubt they were looking for the individual best qualified for the position. The Holy Father places a high value on his Swiss Guard; one would not want to leave this appointment to chance.
Q: The media have advanced two different reasons to explain the delay in your appointment. The first explanation is the question of salary. The second concerns the tradition that the commandant of the Swiss Guard must be a member of the nobility.
A: As for the first issue, I am not too concerned. I receive a decent salary from the Holy See. Certainly, if I were to make comparisons with opportunities available in Switzerland, there would be a great discrepancy. But here, one lives well.
As for the second issue-- the question of nobility-- that is an invention born out of a journalist's fantasy; it has no basis in fact. It is certainly true that some commandants have been men of noble birth, but today that is no longer required.
Q: How do you see the future of the Swiss Guard-- is its very existence in jeopardy?
A: No, that is not a question at all. Today, organizations in charge of security are in more demand than ever before. That holds true for the Holy See as well. The Swiss Guard has done, and will do, everything possible to be an efficient security service. Of course it is important for the members of the Guard to be well trained, to ensure that they serve effectively. That is a permanent challenge.
Q: Is Switzerland, as a country, sufficiently interested in "its" Guard-- an institution which also has gained international recognition?
A: I would say-- not only of Catholic Switzerland, but of the country as a whole-- that it does not adequately understand the importance of the Swiss Guard as an international institution. The Guard provides an image of Switzerland before the world, and the importance of that image should not be underestimated.
Q: You are the postulator of the cause of Nicolas Wolf, a Swiss layman, the head of a family and a political leader, who is a candidate for canonization. In what ways does his example inspire you?
A: His life was very simple; he was a man who always kept both feet on the ground. He placed his faith totally on God, and from that faith he drew the energy to live in service to others.
Articles provided through Catholic World News Service.
NEWS & VIEWS