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Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of UK in Holy See

18th May 2016

Pontifical Diplomacy

HMA Holy See Nigel Baker and Pope Francis
HM Ambassador Nigel Baker meets Pope Francis (March 2013)

The international activism and high profile of Pope Francis has generated renewed interest in the nature and practice of the Holy See’s diplomacy. Just in the last week, the Pope visited the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy – the papal diplomatic college – to meet the young priests preparing there to take up their role as a member of the Holy See’s diplomatic service. Cardinal Parolin, the Secretary of State and senior diplomat in Papal service, has spoken a great deal recently about the Holy See’s international role, not least during a visit to the Baltic States. And a new book, La Diplomazia Pontificia, has just been published, written by the young Italian researcher Matteo Cantori, that seeks to set out the history and development of the Pope’s diplomacy.

The Holy See has always played a diplomatic role. It was once the most important destination for envoys from other countries – one of the reasons why my embassy, by virtue of the despatch of an ambassador to the Holy See by King Edward IV in 1479, is the oldest embassy in the British diplomatic service. Cardinal Parolin has set out some of the Holy See’s modern international priorities, including “the promotion of peace, respect for humanitarian law in the case of conflict, disarmament, the peaceful use of nuclear energy, human rights, including the right to life and religious freedom, the care of migrants and refugees, integral human development, environmental protection, the protection of the cultural and artistic heritage of humanity, the provision of sufficient food resources, adequate health-care, education, and so on”. And in order to further these aims, the Pope has a network of ambassadors, known as Apostolic Nuncios (the word comes from the Latin verb nuntio, from which our own word “announce” derives). There were 35 Nuncios back in 1950. The Holy See has relations with over 180 states today. Pontifical diplomacy is a global concern.

It is also, I think, changing. Under Pope Francis, Papal nuncios are expected to be more proactive, responding to the international demands of the first Pope from the New World. The Holy See is increasing its representation at multilateral organisations, such as the United Nations. And like all diplomatic services around the world, it has to respond to the new circumstances in which we find ourselves: a globalised world with a 24 hour news cycle, in which diplomats have to be able to act with speed and flexibility without losing the professionalism and discretion which is the hallmark of the calling. The sort of creativity this demands has been seen in recent Papal activities, such as Pope Francis’s visit to Lesbos to highlight the migration crisis, or his decision last year to open the Holy Year of Mercy not in Rome, but in war-torn Bangui in Central African Republic.

Holy See diplomats are also fundamentally different. They are, first and foremost, priests, and a key part of their job is to be the link between Rome and local Bishops’ Conferences. That was the Pope’s message to those in training at the Ecclesiastical Academy – never forget your primary vocation. It means they bring a wholly different perspective to the diplomatic scene. And this is something that is of immense value to those of us tempted to forget that the diplomatic role – in essence, working for the peace and prosperity of our countries – is in the end about the dignity and well-being of the people we serve.

1 comment on “Pontifical Diplomacy

  1. I think that Pope Francis is the best Pope we have from many years…. He is more open minded and he takes the people close to the Church.

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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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