In the southern Quebec community of Piopolis, named for Pope Pius IX, a papal army still exists, although it does not fight to protect the Pope's temporary holdings as it did 100 years ago.

About 125 members form the vestiges of the holy army of 500 Quebecois who went across the sea to fight for the Pope in the Italian civil war of the mid-19th century.

Known as the Pontifical Zouaves, the soldiers still wear the distinguishing uniform that has been only slightly altered, and they carry the ancient rifles of a century ago.

Their image in Quebec has comic overtones, and the word "Zouave" has become a synonym for "gaudy fool."

As Col. Roger Langevin, 38, the regiment's ranking officer, said: "Let's face it. To be doing para-military drills at our age, you have to be a bit zealous."

Pope Pius IX received the first organized contingent of volunteers from Quebec for the Zouave regiment in 1868. The men had gone to Rome at the instigation of the Bishop of Montreal to help fight for papal interests in the Italian civil war.

In 1871, two years before the civil war ended, 14 Zouave veterans, who had returned to Quebec, founded a community near the Vermont border and called it Piopolis after Poper Pius XI.

In 1971, a concrete statue of a book bearing names of the 14 original Zouave settlers was erected during the celebrations of the village's centennial.

The present-day Zouave members continued to perpetuate their regiment's traditions in one form or another, sometimes to the amusement of the population. In fact during the town's centennial celebrations, no Zouaves participated in the events because someone forgot to invite them.

The spirit of the Zouaves apparently remains bright. There is a move to recruit young boys, and about a dozen youngsters already have expressed interest in joining the regiment. An auxiliary branch may be opened since some girls indicated they would like to join.

Zouave membership has fallen a long way from its peak of 2,500 prior toWorld War II, but the apparent interest in the regiment is seen as a healthy sign toward a renewed interest in the Catholic Church throughout Quebec, according to the Rev. Lucien Poulin, a priest who ministers to the Piopolis community.