Commander Cibin, rest in peace

VATICAN CITY — Commander Camillo Cibin, the man known as the pope’s “guardian angel” for more than 40 years, died yesterday at the age of 83.

Camillo Cibin and Pope John Paul II

Commander Cibin (center) controls participants at World Youth Day 2000 in Rome as they reach out to Pope John Paul II. (CNS)

The funeral Mass for the former head of Vatican security and chief papal bodyguard will be celebrated tomorrow evening in St. Peter’s Basilica by Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, head of the office governing Vatican City State.

Cibin retired in 2006 just a couple days before his 80th birthday. And up until the minute he retired, he stood alongside the pope or ran alongside the popemobile protecting his boss.

He began his career at the Vatican in 1947 and worked his way up to being director of security services and civil protection for Vatican City State.

He was in charge of security during the Second Vatican Council and the conclaves that elected Popes John Paul I, John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. He was the chief papal bodyguard on all the foreign trips made by Pope Paul and Pope John Paul II and the first two made by Pope Benedict.

Retired Cardinal Roberto Tucci, who organized many of those 115 foreign trips, told Vatican Radio today: “His dedication, including his physical dedication, was total up until the very end. He maintained great physical and mental strength, was always aware, always available and, especially, very humble. He was not a man who put on airs. Ever.”

The cardinal said Cibin was an exemplary human being, someone to be remembered “with admiration and with the hope that the church will continue to find similar kinds of people.”

The commander was running alongside Pope John Paul’s popemobile in St. Peter’s Square May 13, 1981, when Mehmet Ali Agca shot the pope. While the director of the Italian police detail assigned to St. Peter’s Square jumped into the popemobile, Cibin apprehended the Turkish gunman.

The Vatican newspaper this evening said that as soon as Pope John Paul recovered from the shooting, Cibin offered to resign. But Pope John Paul refused to let him go and Cibin stayed for another 25 years.

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