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Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of UK in Holy See

29th July 2015

Remember the kidnapped in Syria

Image: ReligionforPeace.org©
Image: Religion for Peace ©
Image: Religion for Peace©

“How do you define an extremist?”. I once asked this question of a wise friend of mine, who was always critical of imprecise language used by journalists to describe people who held different views. “An extremist”, he said, “is someone incapable of seeing the good in the other. He must therefore dedicate himself to attacking and destroying all that is different from himself and which does not align with his beliefs”.

This definition came to mind as I contemplated the anniversary on 29 July of two years since the kidnapping of Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, by extremists.  Father Dall’Oglio, an Italian Jesuit priest, has dedicated his life and work to Syria, his adopted country, and to dialogue between Christians and Muslims. At a time of terror, warfare, suspicion and misunderstanding, reaching out to “the good in the other” is ever more important if Syria is to be rebuilt, and if its great tradition of coexistence between the different faiths born in the Middle East is to continue. And that is why the extremists are doing their best to prevent that happening.

Kidnapping, and even killing priests who have the courage to remain at the forefront of this effort, is one of their trademarks. As we remember Paolo Dall’Oglio, we also remember Archbishop Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, kidnapped on 22 April 2013, and Archbishop Paul Yazigi, Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo, seized at his side. We remember Father Michel Kayal, Armenian Catholic priest of Aleppo, kidnapped on 9 February 2013 with Father Maher Mahfouz, Greek Orthodox priest of Aleppo. And we remember Father Jacques Mourad, Prior of the Monastery of Mar Elian, kidnapped two months ago on 21 May 2015.

When asked how he remains in Aleppo despite the war, a Franciscan Father, Ibrahim Alsabagh replied that he stays in Syria “to be with the people”. His work is to help all who need his support, Christians or Muslims alike. He admits to being afraid every day, but that “my fears are overcome by the grace of God”. As he goes about his daily work of charity and giving to the most vulnerable, he asks for our prayers. And he asks not to be forgotten.

It is right that we do not forget. And we should continue to use every opportunity to call for the release of the kidnapped, alongside all others of any faith held captive in Syria because of who they are, what they believe and what they do. It is their example of dedication to the other, not that of the extremists, which will build the new Syria from the ashes of the old.

1 comment on “Remember the kidnapped in Syria

  1. God bless and protect father Paolo and Mar Gregorios who have dedicated themselves to spreading the gospel despite the critical situation that many of us fear. The Grace of God is with them.

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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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