A Vatican policeman helps a young girl who strayed into a restricted area during Pope Francis' general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 4. Also pictured is a Swiss Guard. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
A Vatican policeman helps a young girl who strayed into a restricted area during Pope Francis' general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 4. Also pictured is a Swiss Guard. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Members of the Vatican police and fire departments do not just put their lives on the line to protect the pope, but they ensure law, order and the safety of everyone at the Vatican with charity and tenderness, Pope Francis said.

Celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Vatican Gendarme, Pope Francis was scheduled to celebrate a Mass Sept. 18 in the Vatican Gardens with the police, the firefighters and their spouses. Stormy weather forced the celebration to move into St. Peter's Basilica, where uniformed officers served as the cross bearer, altar servers and readers.

Pope Francis preached on the assigned Sunday readings, beginning with the Old Testament story of a man who wants to exploit the poor by cheating them when selling his grain. "His only divinity is money and his actions are dominated by fraud and exploitation," the pope said. "Unfortunately, this type of person is found in every epoch, and there are many today."

Looking at the Gospel story of the "dishonest steward," Pope Francis asked the officers, "How did this administrator get to the point of swindling, stealing from his master? Did it just happen overnight? No. It happens little by little. Taking a tip here, a bribe the next day and little by little it becomes corruption."

In the parable, the master praises the steward for his shrewdness, "but it is a completely worldly shrewdness and strongly sinful," the pope said. 

The Gospel reading ends with a description of a good and faithful servant, reminding people that a person who is honest in small things will be honest in important matters as well, the pope said.

"The swindler loves swindling and hates honesty," he said. "They are those who run the slave-labor industry. Today, slave labor is a management style."

The Vatican security forces, he said, have worked for 200 years to stop people who would try to exploit or cheat others. The Gendarme corps includes officers responsible for monitoring entrances to Vatican territory, parking enforcement, protecting pilgrims and tourists from pickpockets and petty crime, as well as those assigned to investigate more serious crimes. The commander of corps, Domenico Giani, also serves as the pope's chief bodyguard.

It is a service that "not only tries to make sure things go well, but to do so with charity and tenderness, even at the risk of your own lives," the pope told the squads.

The celebration of the anniversary continued in the evening in the Vatican audience hall, where Giani announced a special fundraising concert will be held Dec. 17 to support children in the Central African Republic and in the areas of central Italy struck by an earthquake in late August.