ROME — Meeting new recruits to the Swiss Guard, Pope Francis assured them that God always stands by their side, offering them comfort and consolation.

With the help of Christ and the Holy Spirit, “you will serenely face the obstacles and challenges of life,” he said in a private audience Oct. 2, welcoming 38 Catholic men from Switzerland who were to be sworn in as Swiss Guards Oct. 4.

Normally, the papal audience is held each year in early May, before a colorful swearing-in ceremony of new recruits, traditionally held May 6 to mark the date in 1527 when 147 Swiss Guards lost their lives defending Pope Clement VII in the Sack of Rome.

However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the audience and ceremony were postponed. To respect ongoing precautions to curb the spread of the coronavirus, only close family members of the new recruits were allowed to attend the Oct. 4 ceremony in the Vatican’s San Damaso courtyard.

At the Oct. 2 audience, which included the new recruits’ family members, Pope Francis recalled the courage of the guards who defended the pope during the Sack of Rome.

Today, he said, there is “the danger of a spiritual ‘plunder'” in which many young people are at risk of their souls being pillaged “when they pursue ideals and lifestyles that respond only to their desires or material needs.”

He asked the men to use well their time living in Rome and serving at the Vatican by experiencing the many cultural and spiritual riches available.

“The time you spend here is a unique moment in your life: may you live it with a spirit of fraternity, helping each other lead a life full of meaning and joyously Christian.”

“Do not forget that the Lord is always at your side. I sincerely hope you will always be aware of his consoling presence,” he said.