Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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National and World

February 28, 2013

Swiss Guards in central role in papal retirement

VATICAN CITY (AP) — In their plumed helmets and striped uniforms, the Swiss Guards are one of the most beloved traditions of the Vatican — and on Thursday take a central role in the pope's historic resignation. The bodyguards will stand at attention as the pope arrives by helicopter at his summer retreat in his last hours as pontiff. When they walk off duty, it will be one of the few visible signs that Benedict XVI is no longer pope. A look at the Swiss guards and their colorful history.

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ORIGINS:

The corps, which some historians consider the oldest standing army in the world, was founded in 1506 by Pope Giulio II. Tradition has it that he was so impressed by the bravery of Swiss mercenaries that he asked them to defend the Vatican. Ever since, for more than 500 years, Switzerland has been supplying soldiers to the Vatican. The Swiss Guards swear an oath to give up their lives to protect the pope — and in centuries past, they have. In 1527, 147 of them died protecting Pope Clement VII as he fled to safety when the troops of Emperor Charles V sacked Rome.

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THE GUARDS AND BENEDICT:

The Swiss Guards will be center stage when Benedict, following a carefully choreographed plan, becomes the first pope in 600 years to resign. Benedict meets Thursday morning with cardinals, then flies by helicopter to the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome. There, at 8 p.m. sharp, the doors of the palazzo close and the Swiss Guards walk off duty, their job protecting the leader of the Catholic Church over — at least until the election of a new pope. Benedict's protection will immediately become the responsibility of Vatican police. "We are closing the door very symbolically for the end of the pontificate," said Swiss Guard Cpl. Urs Breitenmoser.

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