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Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of UK in Holy See

22nd May 2014

The Pope’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land: bearing fruit

Pope Francis at General Audience, St Peter’s Square

One of the most extraordinary aspects of Pope Francis’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land on 24-26 May is how it has started to bear fruit even before it has begun. Sadly, the lands that he will be visiting – the crucible for some of the most intractable conflicts in human history – are not known for peace, harmony and reconciliation.

The Pope is under no illusions about the realities. But his determination to be the bearer of messages of dialogue and mutual understanding – albeit through the prism of faith rather than politics – is already having real effect.

His decision to invite a Rabbi and an Imam, both personal friends, to accompany him on his pilgrimage is a powerful statement of intent. 400 US Rabbis and senior Jewish figures have written a message of welcome – to be published on 25 May in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz – praising Pope Francis’s determination not just to talk about dialogue, but for working to construct bridges between religions to bring peace into the world.

Similarly, Anglicans and Catholics in Britain have announced that they will unite in prayer on 25 May at the very hour that Pope Francis will visit the Christians of Bethlehem, to help highlight Pope Francis’s determination to bring different Christian communities together through his pilgrimage.

This is, as clearly stated by the Holy See, not a political visit. And yet there are, inevitably, deep political ramifications when a global leader with such immense impact calls for peace and reconciliation while visiting countries facing conflict. And despite the pessimism about the Peace Process, the Pope will not be whistling in the wind.

Jordan has worked hard to ensure harmony between Jerusalem’s Islamic and Christian institutions. Mahmoud Abbas used his 2011 UN General Assembly speech to affirm his attachment to the presence of all three religions which hold the City of Jerusalem sacred. And in a recent interview, Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See, Zion Evrony, noted that: “Spiritual religious leaders and interreligious dialogue can sometimes pave the way for a dialogue between nations; it can lower the animosity between the two sides, create more trust and build bridges to peace”. Faith can, and should, be a vector of peace as well as conflict.

Let us hope that the Pope’s presence strengthens the desire for dialogue, peace and reconciliation. The UK wants security both for Israel and for the Palestinians; justice for the Palestinians, and deserved peace for both peoples. Politics are not on the Pope’s agenda. But togetherness – through prayer, encounter and dialogue – certainly is. That’s a powerful start.

4 comments on “The Pope’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land: bearing fruit

  1. We really need peace between all the religions. This is very much significant in the world. If this religion problem is solved then all others are so minute.

  2. My sympathies to you Mr. Ambassador this must be a difficult time for you as you are probably hoping the Pope will not say too much to upset your governments efforts to further neo-colonial influence in the region. By the way unlike the previous contributor I am not fake :-).

  3. Our Pope Francis’s continue intercession on our world’s behalf to the holy land shall bring to us,our IHS’s plan of a peaceful land of both the Jewish State of lsrael and the PA,land,in the name of IHS,Amen,respect to all,regards,Oyekunle Ajayi.

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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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