Swiss Guards celebrate 500th anniversary

 Celebrations for the fifth centenary of the founding of the Swiss Guards are underway in Rome. On Tuesday they began with a concert of popular music performed by the Swiss Guard Band in the Paul VI Hall. Yesterday afternoon, Pope Benedict XVI appeared at the window of his studio overlooking St Peter's Square to bless the 70 former guards who reached the end of their 720 mile march from Bellinzona, in the Swiss canton Ticino. The guards began their journey, along the old pilgrim route known as the Via Francigena, on 7 April. The guards crossed through the city of Rome, as they did 500 years ago and were welcomed by the local authorities in Piazza del Popolo. They then proceeded to St Peter's Square, to receive their papal blessing. Tomorrow, at 3.30pm, in the Auditorium Conciliazione a meeting will take place between all the members of the Swiss Guard and their families and friends. At 7pm, the choir and orchestra of the Collegium Musicum of Lucerne, with soloists from the Higher School of Music, also of Lucerne, the choir of Freiburg Cathedral and the Vokalensemble of the Swiss Canton of Schwyz will perform the "Carmen Saeculare" by Fr Theo Flury OSB. Saturday 6 May, the main day of the fifth centenary celebrations, will begin with a commemorative Mass in St Peter's Basilica. A wreath of flowers will then be laid in the Square of Roman Protomartyrs inside the Vatican remembering those guards who fell during the sack of Rome in 1527. At 4.30pm, the annual swearing-in ceremony for new recruits will take place; for the first time in history it will be held in St. Peter's Square, rather than in the San amaso courtyard where it normally takes place. At 11pm, there will be a firework display over Castel Sant'Angelo. Finally, on Sunday, after the Regina Coeli, the Swiss Army Concert Band will give a concert in St Peter's Square. . Source: VIS

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