ROME – On Sunday citizens of the Lucerne canton of Switzerland held a referendum on whether to make a financial contribution to the renovation of the new barracks for the Swiss Guard, the world’s smallest army posted at the Vatican, with around 71.5 percent voting in opposition to the funding.
According to SwissInfo.ch, the referendum challenging the over $400,000 contribution, agreed on by the cantonal parliament, was mainly organized by anti-clerical associations such as the Freethinkers Association and a handful of left-wing parties opposed to the church.
The current Swiss Guard barracks are small and cramped shared spaces, with just 12 single rooms for the entire 135-man army, making it difficult to accommodate all of them, and making the potential addition of women into the tiny army currently impossible.
Last year the Vatican unveiled plans to renovate the barracks, with a projected completion date of 2026, to mark the 520th anniversary of the founding of the Swiss Guard.
The plans include a much-needed expansion that is aimed not only at improving the life of the current guards, but also allowing the possibility in the future of women to enlist, as the currently all-male Guard struggles to find new members.
The new barracks are scheduled to be formally inaugurated May 6, 2027, and include floor plans for 123 single rooms spread out over four floors.
A Swiss-based architectural firm has designed the new barracks, in keeping with current building and safety codes, as well as environmental efficiency standards.
The total cost is estimated around $60 million, and is being funded through private and public donations, including the Swiss government, the Vatican, and Swiss cantons.
In a statement to Crux, the press secretary for the Swiss Guard, Manuel von Däniken, said they accept “with disappointment” the decision of the Lucerne canton to hold a referendum against contributing to the new barracks.
However, the commanders recognize “that this is not a vote of no confidence in the Guard itself.”
“Lucerne’s contribution to a contemporary and sustainable accommodation that corresponds to today’s living conditions will now be missing” and has to be “compensated by other means,” he said, but voiced confidence that the new barracks “can be realized.”
Däniken also voiced hope that Lucerne’s “traditionally close ties with the Swiss Guard will continue,” and stressed that “the aging barracks of the Pontifical Swiss Guard need to be completely renovated.”
To this end, he pointed to a foundation established for this purpose under Swiss law, the Foundation for the Renovation of the Barracks, which is tasked with securing the funding for the new barracks. It will explore ways to make up for the losses associated with the outcome of the Lucerne referendum.
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