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Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of UK in Holy See

15th February 2013

Benedict XVI and the UK

Pope Benedict XVI and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh (Papal visit to the United Kingdom, 16 September 2010). Photo: ©Osservatore Romano

The news that Pope Benedict XVI was stepping down led to messages flowing in to Rome from all corners of the world. Amongst the warmest have been many from the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister sent Pope Benedict the best wishes of Her Majesty’s Government. Foreign Office Minister of State Baroness Warsi wrote a moving testimonial in the British media on her personal encounters with the Pope. And the Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster were quick to respond to the announcement with their prayers and support.

There is a reason for this. As the Prime Minister noted, the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Holy See has flourished during this Pontificate. Not least, memories remain fresh of Benedict XVI’s extraordinary visit to Britain in September 2010. Arguably, his discourse to the British people in London’s Westminster Hall, from the site of Thomas More’s trial over 450 years ago, was one of the central speeches of his Papacy. In it, he confronted head on the question of the role of faith in the public square, and the essential underpinning to our civilisation of the dialectic between faith and reason. And he spoke of “the many core values that we share”.

It is easy to forget the difficult context of that visit. In particular, the notable hostility of the media right up until the Pope’s arrival in Scotland. That dissipated almost immediately as the crowds came out  to welcome Pope Benedict in Edinburgh and Glasgow on St Ninian’s day. Antipathy was replaced by surprise, respect and esteem for a simple, even humble individual, and the message he brought.

The success of the visit was founded on hard work and a growing strengthening of the relationship in the years that preceded it. It has been followed by other significant moments – not least the British Government delegation visit to the Holy See in February 2012. Under the radar, the steady, more prosaic but no less important task of building ties, forging links and achieving results across our respective global networks has been underway.

This will continue under Pope Benedict’s successor. There will be issues on which we shall continue to disagree, as in any healthy and robust dialogue. But it can truly be said that the Holy See-United Kingdom relationship has never been so strong as during Benedict XVI’s pontificate.

1 comment on “Benedict XVI and the UK

  1. Dear Mr. Baker,

    As a matter of conscience in our duty to Our Father in Heaven and the Vineyard of the Lord, we present this contemplation of the history of Great Britain and the Holy See and this Prayer for Pope Benedict XVI and a Contemplation for the Cardinals:


    As you will notice from the Open Letters we are in touch with Her Majesty and the British Cabinet, President Obama, former Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, Madame Lagarde and so forth.

    We send you our best wishes!

    Yours sincerely,

    Joseph Ray Sundarsson.

Comments are closed.

About Nigel Baker

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as…

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as Deputy Head of Mission in the British Embassy in Havana, Cuba (2003-6) and then as British Ambassador in La Paz, Bolivia (2007-11). In July 2016, Nigel finished his posting, and is currently back in London.

As the first British Ambassador to the Holy See ever to have a blog, Nigel provided a regular window on what the Embassy and the Ambassador does. The blogs covered a wide range of issues, from Royal and Ministerial visits to Diplomacy and Faith, freedom of religion, human trafficking and climate change.

More on Nigel’s career

Nigel was based in London between 1998 and 2003. He spent two years on European Union issues (for the UK 1998 EU Presidency and on European Security and Defence questions), before crossing St James’s Park to work for three years as The Assistant Private Secretary to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. At St James’s Palace, Nigel worked on international issues, including the management of The Prince of Wales’s overseas visits and tours, on the Commonwealth, interfaith issues, the arts and international development.

Nigel spent much of the early part of his FCO career in Central Europe, after an initial stint as Desk Officer for the Maghreb countries in the Near East and North Africa department (1990-91). Between 1992 and 1996, Nigel served in the British embassies in Prague and Bratislava, the latter being created in 1993 after the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into the separate Czech and Slovak Republics.

Nigel joined the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) in September 1989. Between 1996 and 1998 he took a two year academic sabbatical to research and write about themes in 18th century European history, being based in Verona but also researching in Cambridge, Paris and Naples. The research followed from Nigel’s time as a student at Cambridge (1985-88) where he read history and was awarded a First Class Honours degree, followed by his MA in 1992.

Before joining the Foreign Office, Nigel worked briefly for the Conservative Research Department in London at the time of the 1989 European election campaign.

Nigel married Alexandra (Sasha) in 1997. They have one son, Benjamin, born in Bolivia in September 2008.

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