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Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of UK in Holy See

22nd July 2013

The Phenomenon of World Youth Day

Pilgrims in Rio, World Youth Day 2013. Image: JMJ Rio 2013, some rights reserved.

Denver, Manila, Paris, Buenos Aires, Madrid, Sydney, Czestochowa, Toronto, Cologne, Rome, Santiago de Compostela. What unites all these cities is the experience of hosting World Youth Day (WYD, GMG, JMJ), one of the most spectacular global events in the Christian calendar.

Inaugurated by Pope John Paul II in 1985, this sometimes biennial, sometimes triennial festival of young people has undoubtedly become one of the high points for the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. As many as two million young people joined Benedict XVI for Mass during searing heat and epic thunderstorms at the last event in August 2011.

Now it’s the turn of Rio de Janeiro. Some would call it serendipity, others Providence, that the first WYD of the first Pope from the Americas had been planned for the continent’s largest Catholic country. Although the number of 4-5 million people who attended WYD in Manila in 1995 is unlikely to be surpassed, without doubt the crowds will be huge.

Despite the economic crisis, a strong contingent from Europe will be present, including over 1,000 – travelling officially or independently – from England, Scotland and Wales. As with any major global event of this sort, the local British consulate has provided travel advice and tips for visitors, and will be on hand to help with any consular emergencies that may arise.

Indeed, major religious pilgrimages are becoming a regular element in the consular work managed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – one only has to think of the special team that supports British Haj pilgrims to Mecca every year.

Pope Francis will remember  the first WYD to have been held outside Rome, in his native city of Buenos Aires in 1987. As the third Pope to attend a WYD, he will bring his own particular brand of outreach to the young faithful in Rio. As a Jesuit, we can expect the missionary aspect of his ministry to stand out.

What the festival and its media coverage will emphasise, as always, is the global nature of the Roman Catholic Church, and Pope Francis will be conscious of addressing young people from every corner of the world. Brazil celebrates the World Cup in 2014, and the Olympic Games in 2016. But it is unlikely that, to date, Rio has experienced anything like the phenomenon of WYD.

4 comments on “The Phenomenon of World Youth Day

  1. How I wish the whole world is united in truth and live together in love like this so that His glory may be revealed to the world.

  2. Hundreds of young people from Scotland – and beyond! – will be in Stirling this week for Scotland’s Rio, joining in prayer with the Holy Father and young people all over the world. World Youth Day is a fantastic phenomenon for the Church and leaves a joyful footprint on each host city, with incalculable cultural, social, and even financial benefits. God willing one day the UK will take its turn to welcome the Pope once more, this time for a World Youth Day!

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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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