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Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of UK in Holy See

27th March 2013

Changing of the Guard

Meeting with Representatives of Religion, 20 March 2013.
Photo copyright: News.Va, all rights reserved

As Rome prepares for Easter – a time that Christians have always considered to be one of renewal and rebirth – there is a palpable feel across the global religious map of a recharging of batteries, a resurgence of hope, and new leaders reinvigorating the faithful of different religious traditions.

We have a new Pope, the first from the Americas, expressing forcefully messages of simplicity, human dignity and responsibility for our environment that flow from a deep reading of the teachings of Francis of Assisi, from whom Pope Francis took his name.

In Canterbury, Archbishop Justin Welby, the 105th Archbishop since Augustine, has taken the reins of the Anglican Communion, expressing a clear sense of the importance of the international dynamism of Anglican Christianity and the role it has to play in the social, economic, ethical and political debates of the public square.

New authorities at Al Azhar in Egypt have expressed an eager willingness to see visible re-engagement between the Holy See and Islam. The new Coptic Pope, Theodoros II, has called for a church that “serves the community”. And we shall see new faces at the helm of the Jewish world as well – Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks steps down shortly after many fruitful years as Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth – as Jewish leaders in Italy and Israel, too, have welcomed the election of Pope Francis.

One of the key messages of recent weeks has been the willingness – the readiness – of these new leaders to work with each other across faith divides, and of religious leaders already in office to engage with them.

Many in the media seem to have missed just how significant it was that the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople attended the inauguration of Pope Francis, alongside strong delegations from other Orthodox churches, from Anglicanism, the wider Protestant world, alongside Shia clerics and rabbis.

In his speech of 22 March to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, Pope Francis emphasised how “it is important to intensify dialogue among the various religions” as well as “to intensify outreach to non-believers”.

Religion is often seen as a dividing force. There are too many instances before our eyes of conflict in the name of religion even if, as Benedict XVI always insisted, any religion that justified violence could not be considered a genuine faith.

Pope Francis has talked, instead, of the “fundamental” role of religion as “a builder of bridges … connecting all people, in such a way that everyone can see in the other not an enemy, not a rival, but a brother or sister to be welcomed”.

Fine words. And it is easy to be cynical about them. But let’s give the new guard a chance, and our support. In a world in which religion is growing in importance, their role alongside political, economic and other opinion leaders may well be crucial in helping us face the dislocation of change, economic crisis and globalisation with which we are all grappling.

2 comments on “Changing of the Guard

  1. excellent points altogether, you simply gained a new reader. What would you suggest in regards to your post that you made some days ago? Any positive?

  2. I am thrilled to bits to have a new Pontif from South America. He seems to be a wonderful man , it gives me renewed hope for the survival of our faith and the Catholic Church in my time. God Bless His Holiness. Amen

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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