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Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of UK in Holy See

22nd October 2014

Synod and University: a global network in action

Opening of the Synod on the Family. Photo: © Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk

I often tell people that I consider myself accredited, first and foremost, to a global network, the most extensive on the planet. In a world that operates no longer through blocs but networks, that of the Holy See reaches parts that political, diplomatic or ordinary civil society networks simply cannot reach. For a diplomat based at the Vatican, that represents an extraordinary resource; for information about, understanding of, and access to the wider world. This was demonstrated by two recent events here in Rome.

The first was the sitting of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, summoned by Pope Francis. Present were over 180 voting delegates, as well as religious and lay experts from all corners of the world. Inaccurately, I recognise, I like sometimes to call the Synod the “parliament” of the Catholic Church. And it is a genuinely global assembly. Bishops from every continent debated the key issues affecting the family, and it was striking how they brought with them into the Synod Hall the different cultural spaces in which they operate: Africans reminding us not to forget issues like polygamy; Asians speaking about the impact of emigration on their communities; Middle Eastern Patriarchs talking passionately about how war and conflict damage family life; Europeans relaying the concerns from their societies about divorce or same sex marriage. There was a common theme – the family – but each representative had something of their own to contribute, and the echoes of their own lands were audible throughout the fortnight.

This week, I attended the inauguration of the Academic Year of the “Urbanianum”, the Pontifical University established in the 17th century to prepare priests for mission overseas. Today, its role is as a university for seminarians, religious and priests from around the world, particularly Africa, Asia and Latin America. As I looked around the Aula Magna, re-named after Benedict XVI, I saw amongst the 450 guests a microcosm of the 110 different countries present amongst the university’s student body. A choir began proceedings singing in one of the many languages of the Democratic Republic of Congo; we heard prayers in Chinese, Hindi and Swahili (as well as English and Italian); we were informed about the 24 trips out of Italy made by Pope Benedict XVI in his 8 year Pontificate; student prize-winners came from China, India and South Africa.

I have no doubt that many of the future leaders of the Catholic church are now studying at the Urbanianum, inspired by the example of the first Pope from the New World. The global Holy See network offers us another facet of the phenomenon of globalisation, as well as being a factor in it. The people who belong to it make it an increasingly global player.

1 comment on “Synod and University: a global network in action

  1. the catholic church have one of the best educational & leadership network. its incredible the work that the church is doing and the role they play in society in every country in the world. Bless the Holy See

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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