The Swiss Guard are a very colourful part of the Vatican. Behind the scenes this week I have seen them relaxing, having a glass of water on a short break, cooling off. When they stand to attention they click their heels very loudly, and their right arm rises in a fixed salute. There have been 2 on the gate, 2 on the main door and 1 inside for every session. They salute every Cardinal, archbishop and bishop on their way in, and way out. This includes the English Anglican. I don’t think I shall be seeking a way to introduce such respectful behaviour anywhere in Durham. These guards act as a clear reminder of the Vatican being a separate state. Whilst ceremonial they also remind us all that the Pope is a vulnerable person, open to attack.
The theme of the cost of being a Christian, even to martyrdom, has never been far from my mind during this Synod. We have heard and spoken of Christians in Iraq and Syria on several occasions. The Archbishop of Iran flew to Jordan to talk with the King there about Christian refugees and their care. We have heard of the struggles in Northern Nigeria with Boko Haram. OMany of us gathered at San Bartolomeo to remember martyrs from all over the world of the 20th century. The English College reminded us of 41 martyrs in their early years. In the Anglican calendar we remembered Latimer and Ridley’s martyrdom. Then in Rome the thoughts of Peter and Paul’s martyrdom and the many other ordinary Christians under Nero and Domitian especially are never far away.
Being a follower of Jesus Christ has never been easy or straightforward. The gospel is glorious good news of freedom, yet it is centred on the Cross and living the way of the cross. This is part of what the Synod has been wrestling with; it is a gospel of mercy and truth. It is good news. It is welcoming to all. Yet it is deeply challenging to any lifestyle that is self centred; to any society that makes an idol of wealth and economics, or political power. God must come first and last. This is not because he is a domineering ogre but because He is the gracious, merciful, loving One who gave himself fully in Jesus for us all. It is a response of love to Love.
This is why Pope Francis gives those around him, including the Swiss Guard, regular palpitations. He wants to model the loving openness of Jesus. This means being with the people, touching them, talking with them. It places him at risk. But this is Jesus’ way.