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Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of UK in Holy See

23rd March 2016

Fifty Anglican years at the Vatican

Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope in 1966
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Michael Ramsey, visits Pope Paul VI (23 March 1966). Image: Fotografia Felici, all rights reserved.

March 1966 saw an historic visit to the Vatican, the first official visit by an Archbishop of Canterbury since – incredibly – Thomas Arundel in 1398. Rightly, it will be much celebrated during the year ahead. The visit had been made possible by the Second Vatican Council, which formally opened up the Roman Catholic Church to other Christian denominations. It fell to Archbishop Michael Ramsey to take the crucial step. At a service at the Anglican Centre in Rome earlier this week, Bishop Stephen Platten called Ramsey “an Anglican ambassador of Christ to the Holy Father”.

The word “ambassador” made me sit up and think. There are many who believe that the worlds of diplomacy and religion should be kept strictly apart. That’s tricky for the ambassador to the Holy See, but even certain colleagues in the Foreign Office would argue that ecumenical relations (the relationships between different Christian churches) or interreligious dialogue (contacts between people of different faith) have nothing to do with foreign policy. Caesar deals with Caesar, not God, they might say.

This seems to me increasingly untenable, in a world where – outside Western Europe – religious observance is on the rise, and where religion is invoked as a prime motivating force, for good or ill, for the actions of individuals and communities in conflict, in peacemaking, in development, in daily lives. Michael Ramsey was reaching out to end a breach that had lasted for over 400 years, a breach that had led to warfare, persecution, terrorism and ingrained mistrust, even hatred. Fast forward to 2016, and it is easy to see why the lessons learned over the fifty years since might be relevant today. We can’t afford to allow such catastrophic breaches between religions to open up again.

One fruit of the visit was the creation of the Anglican Centre in Rome. Pope Paul VI told visiting Anglicans in October 1966 that the Centre’s prime role was to promote better mutual knowledge between Anglicans and Catholics, “a knowledge free of prejudice, informed by reverence, eager to discover not only what separates us but what unites us; a knowledge which banishes mistrust and clears a path by which we may draw nearer still”. Barring perhaps the reverence, that’s not a bad mission statement for an ambassador. And it’s why, as an embassy, we do what we can to help facilitate the many ecumenical and interreligious relationships with which the Holy See is engaged, especially those involving the United Kingdom. It’s not in my job description but, in 2016, it seems the right thing to do.

1 comment on “Fifty Anglican years at the Vatican

  1. Very good to see HM Abassador engaging with and promoting Anglican-Roman relations. Most encouraging.

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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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