“Loyalty to the Holy Father and solidarity.” With these two concepts, Commander Domenico Giani, interviewed by Luca Collodi, wanted to summarize 200 years of history of the Gendarmerie Corps of the Vatican City State.
Commander Giani, you have been in the service of the Pope for 200 years…
“I think it is a very important date. I am grateful to the Lord for being, at this historical moment, the head of this glorious body that has a great past, which can be summarized in two concepts: loyalty to the Pope and solidarity. Skimming through the ‘history of these years – a dedicated volume should be released soon – you see how this body, in 200 years of history, has had precisely these two objectives:loyalty to the Holy Father and solidarity with the others. Besides the military events, as it were – these 200 years of history we know it and we know the role of the Gendarmerie in the Papal States – I like to recall these two concepts because, for example, during the plague that hit central Italy towards the end of 1700, the police were engaged in the front row, exactly as it happened during he earthquakes of L’Aquila and Amatrice. Or during the Second World War, when the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo were places of refuge for so many people – prisoners, deserters, draft dodgers, and obviously Jews – or the embassies, at that historic moment they could no longer stay within the Roman territory but forced to come to the Vatican. On this occasion the police did a great service, also welcome under the direction of the Secretariat of State and of the Governorate of time. Very beautiful pages, which today are repeated, for example, with Pope Francis who welcomes refugees. Our gendarmes were present on the island of Lesbos also in this case, and they have offered their help to make some families come, along with the Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome. And now, going back to the question solidarity, the presence of our Fire Department and our Gendarmes in Valle del Tronto”.
An important feature of the Vatican Gendarmerie concerns exactly the civil protection service…
“Yup. It was in 2000, when the reform was made and the new law of the State government, that the Directorate of the Security Services and Civil Protection was established, at whose command was placed the Commander of the Gendarmerie. This body incorporated firefighters who, until then, depended on the Directorate of Technical Services. For us it was a new experience, but I must say it was a good choice, because the civil defense is a very important element. Just think how important the service of the Civil Protection is at present, during the Jubilee. Certainly, the earthquake in Amatrice – without forgetting about all the other small cities that were struck too – showed the great and immediate desire there was in the Vatican to help. We departed right away because, of course, the Fire Department had to make immediate interventions. The first team departed that same night, whereas the gendarmes have joined them the day after, to take care of other activities. I must say that the Swiss Guards were ready to leave, as well as the Health Services of the Governorate. So many people have called the command to offer their help some way. Moreover, a collection of cloths and equipment was made, which will be delivered to the areas struck by the earthquake. We are constantly in contact with the bishop of Rieti…”
Meanwhile, 6 firefighters and 6 Gendarmes whom the Pope had sent to Amatrice, made their return to the Vatican…
“They operated under the guidance of the Authority of Civil Protection and the Prefect of the place, carrying out a great activity – in particular the Fire Department – in the search of the missing people. There is a very nice page that tells how a child was found. The gendarmes, in their turn, controlled the area, together with the Italian security forces, in particular to prevent the phenomena of plundering. Unfortunatel, jackals always appear in these cases. The gendarmes controlled the area where the tent cities was being built”.
The jubilee year has almost finished. Lately, many words have been spent on Islamic terrorism. Did you fear that some madman might have taken action?
“I would say that the Jubilee year began in a war zone, where the Pope has made an important action, a gesture of reconciliation and inter-religious dialogue. His visit to the mosque was a very beautiful moment. The gendarmes have done a great job in this situation, which then continued with the opening of the Holy Door and with all the events that have followed. For us, gendarmes, it has been – and still is – a busy, very challenging, and beautiful year from a spiritual point of view. We have celebrated the Jubilee together with the Swiss Guards a few days ago: a very touching moment and a strong enrichment from a spiritual point of view. In terms of threats, I must say that relations with the Italian police forces and all the work that has been done by the Police and by the Financial Guard Corps, as well as traffic wardens and, obviously, by the ‘Vatican Inspectorate – which is our neighbor, our closest brother from this point of view, along with the Swiss Guard of course – guaranted, as I see it, an atmosphere of great serenity. The people, the people, each one of us, has grown accustomed to undergo the controls that have become normal in our time. There were no incidents, there were no elements of danger, risk, nor alerts… Obviously, the Holy Year began with some concerns, which I would call physiological in these moments. Nonetheless, it continues with no alarms. Of course we are always on the watch and pay great attention.”
Are you in dialogue with the security forces of the Arab countries?
“Of course. Since long ago, through police channels and information agencies, we have a daily contact with the police forces of other countries, including Muslim countries. I can testify that there is a great veneration for the figure of the Holy Father there. My colleagues from a number of Arab countries, the Horn of Africa, the Middle East, and the Orient, have a special veneration for the Holy Father: they see the Pope as a reference point. I can truly say that he is considered a prophet, a man of peace, a man for dialogue and of dialogue. For us, it is nice to meet from time to time, with the leaders of these contexts, be able to embrace each other like brothers and be told that the presence of Christians in many parts of the world is important.”
On Sunday morning, Pope Francis has celebrated Mass. In the evening, at 6.00 p.m., will be held the ceremony for the 200th anniversary of the Corps in the Vatican Gardens…
“As it happens every year, the president of the Vatican Governorate, Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, will hold a speech. The ceremony will continue with the assistance of the Substitute of the Secretariat of State, then with the speech of the Commander and the reading of the Pope’s message. This year, the banner of the Gendarmerie will be decorated with the Red Cross’ Gold Medal for value. A choice that the President of the National Red Cross, the lawyer Rocca, made as a sign of high – social, I would say – merit of the banner of the Gendarmerie for the work done in the last 200 years. Followed by a party to be attended by many delegations from Italy but also from abroad: Korea, Sweden, and Lebanon. I like to call it a family party, among friends, who meet to thank each other for our service. To say ‘thank you’ ourselves, to the Italian colleagues and to the others, for the help they provide every day to the Holy See.”
Interview by Luca Collodi, The Vatican Radio