GENEVA (AP) — The Swiss government decided Friday to set up a dedicated embassy to the Vatican, for which Switzerland’s ambassador to Slovenia is currently responsible.
Switzerland’s governing Federal Council determined the current arrangement “no longer allows all the work entailed by Switzerland’s diplomatic relations with the Holy See to be accomplished efficiently,” a government statement said. It pointed to a sharp rise in high-level official visits in recent years.
Switzerland has been diplomatically represented at the Vatican since 1991, though the post of ambassador was held by diplomats based in Bern, Geneva, Prague and since 2014, Ljubljana, Slovenia. The new embassy will also manage relations with Malta and San Marino.
Although Switzerland’s diplomatic presence so far has been limited, the country is central to a Vatican institution — the Swiss Guards. Members of the world’s oldest standing army provide ceremonial guard duty during papal Masses, stand watch at the Vatican gates and help protect Pope Francis.
The guards are all single Swiss men under age 30 and must be upstanding Catholics. They sign up for two-year tours of duty and live communally inside the Vatican.