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A Swiss guard at Strathmore

Tell us a little about your background.

I am Grégoire Piller, born in Fribourg a town in Switzerland. At the age of 21, in November 2005, I became a Swiss Guard in the Vatican City State until the 28th of February 2013 when Pope Benedict XVI renounced the ministry of Bishop of Rome and Successor of Saint Peter.


Why did you choose to become a Swiss guard?

As a Catholic, I have always been dedicated to offering my services to God, to the church, and to the Pope. So when I got the opportunity to do so, I did not let it pass. This service was also very important for my Christian life and in strengthening my faith in God. 


How does one become Swiss Guard? For how long were you a Swiss Guard?  How is a day in the life of a Swiss Guard?

First of all, to become a Swiss guard, one goes through a rigorous selection and interview process by the Commandants. Suitable qualities include being a Swiss national, having a minimum height of 174 cm, be a practicing Catholic c.f we need a recommendation by the parish priest of one’s locality and must come from the military i.e the Swiss army, I was a Sergeant Major Chief in the rescue corps one of the most prestigious troupes in the Swiss army. Upon fulfilling the basics, one then becomes a Swiss Guard for two years. However, I was a Swiss Guard for almost eight years due to my rank as Vice-Corporal.

A typical day for a Swiss Guard is rather busy with tasks such as ensuring security to the entrance of the Vatican, to the Papal palace, security of the Pope as well and at St. Peters Square. The Swiss Guards also present a guard of honor to Presidents and Ambassadors whenever they pay a visit.


Do you have some firsthand experiences with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI?

In my years of service, I had a number of first-hand experiences with Pope Benedict considering I became a Swiss guard just six months after he began his pontificate and remained there until the end of his pontificate, 28th February 2013. In was honored to celebrate Christmas and even Easter with him in the Vatican. In 2010, a friend of mine, Kevin Stephan, was baptized by Pope Benedict XVI and I become his Godfather. That was a great honor and also an important task. I also got the chance to spend quite a number of the holidays with him at Castel Gandolfo, in his summer residence at about 40 kilometers from the Vatican. Every moment with Pope Benedict was an immense Gift.


How is life in the Vatican?

The prayer and meditation moments are very fulfilling in the Vatican and you get to experience so much of God’s blessings, so many pilgrims living their faith makes the catholic faith real and deep. For a Swiss Guard, the work is very busy in a day but the entire experience is beautiful.


You did a 1200 kilometers walk along the Via Francigena, what are your experiences?

A long tradition of the Swiss guard is to walk on the Via Francigena, an antical European road. When I left the Vatican I decided to go back home, in Switzerland by foot, using the Via Francigena, the walk took 43 days and it strongly strengthened my faith and trust in God. This journey also made me more prayerful since it was a great moment to meditate and concentrate on my spiritual life. I used to spend the night in a church or a nearby convent and whenever I needed to purchase anything I would do it in the shops along the way. I was very grateful to God because throughout my journey, I was greeted with great favor and I had no problems finding a place to sleep or food to eat. The journey was a wonderful experience to my mission.


What inspired you to begin the Diomira Foundation and what do you intend to achieve through it?

This is an Italian Foundation that was inspired by my late aunt, Venerable Maria Diomira who was born on 23rd February 1708 and my family prayed so much to her. So I decided to start this Foundation and I am working to facilitate more non–profit organisations for the care of children, women and the non-privileged in the society with the desire to revive the figure of its predecessor,” The passion of Frignano”.

At Strathmore, we are identifying community projects that can be supported by the organisation. Some of the projects such as the girls’ primary school in Lodwar or a hospital in Kitui being supported by the University’s community outreach program (COP) are of great interest.


What are your impressions of Kenya? How did get to know about Strathmore?  What do you intend to do while here? 

This is my first time in Kenya and my first time in Africa as well, and I must say that Kenya is no doubt a wonderful place. I love the weather, not too cold, not too hot it is just conducive. Then again I greatly appreciate the people because they are very warm, at least for the short period of time I have been here I can testify the kindness of the people around here. Of course, I cannot forget the nature, the wildlife it is just amazing.


At the moment I am working under the corporate development department at Strathmore University to help developed international initiative and build strong international relations (networks). I got to know about Kenya and Strathmore through a friend Priest in Rome who advised me to come and learn more about Africa here. Africa is beautiful. I hope to do some good work on this sunny and warm continent.