What Do Swiss Guards Actually Do?

As Pope Benedict XVI passed through St. Peter's Square during his weekly Wednesday audience, a man jumped over the barrier and apparently tried to climb aboard the pope's jeep. This video footage shows the papal security detail pouncing on the man while a member of the Swiss Guard stood by and watched. What do the Swiss Guards actually do?

Protect the pope. While the Swiss Guard has many ceremonial responsibilities—guarding Vatican checkpoints, standing sentry in the Apostolic Palace, appearing at celebratory masses and other events—their ultimate job is to keep the pope out of harm's way, even if that means taking a bullet for him. Judging from the barrier-vaulting video, it might look like the Swiss Guard was doing a poor job of defending the pope's life. In fact, it was on the case: Two of the men who rushed to hold down the intruder were Swiss Guard officers in plainclothes—the commander and a high-ranking officer. (A pair of undercover Swiss Guard officers accompanies the pope whenever he travels.) The other men in suits are most likely members of the Vatican security forces, or gendarmeria, and possibly the Italian secret service. Meanwhile, the uniformed guard from the footage appears to be manning the route, but not as part of the security entourage.

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