2016-06-23 19:19:00

Farewell papal audience for Britain's ambassasdor to the Holy See

(Vatican Radio) As people across the United Kingdom went to the polls on Thursday, here in the Vatican, Pope Francis met privately with Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker, who had a farewell audience at the conclusion of almost five years in office.

Ambassador Baker presented his credentials to Pope Benedict XVI in September 2011, just after Britain had seen an outbreak of rioting in London and other major cities. Since then, he has welcomed Queen Elizabeth II and many high profile government delegations to the Vatican, as well as spearheading initiatives to highlight policies from brokering peace in Somalia to preventing sexual violence in conflicts.

Just after his papal audience, Ambassador Baker talked to Philippa Hitchen about the most memorable moments of his years here in the Vatican, about the challenges facing his country today and about the impact of Pope Francis’ vision of a strong and united European continent…


The ambassador points to three highlights during his posting here: the very positive April 2014 visit of the Queen to the Vatican, noting that Pope Francis during Thursday’s farewell conversation quoted the words of his predecessor, Saint John Paul II, who described the British monarch as reigning “with great dignity”.

Secondly, he speaks of the excitement of being in Rome during a conclave “without losing a Pope (as) the Pope Emeritus is still with us which is wonderful!” Thirdly he talks about the centenary of diplomatic relations between Britain and the Holy See which were celebrated in Rome in 2014.

Latin American interests

Ambassador Baker also shares moments from his final meeting with Pope Francis, recalling that his previous diplomatic posting had been in Bolivia and Cuba, thus the two of them were able to speak Spanish as “the best lingua franca”. The conversation, he says, ranged from Latin American issues to underlining the importance of the family as “the bedrock of society”.

Global and local presence of the Church

Asked about his views as an Anglican diplomat after five years at the heart of the Catholic Church, the ambassador speaks of both “the global presence and the inner strength” of the Church which he has come to understand far better during his time in office.

Challanges in Britain today

Speaking of the challenges facing British society today, he notes areas of progress such as bringing down the unemployment rate and the way in which the government has been learning to better engage with the different sectors of society.

Referendum on Europe

Commenting on the way the referendum has divided British voters, the ambassador says he believes it shows how passionate people from all walks of life are about the future of their country. Noting the sense of horror that followed on from the murder of MP Jo Cox, he says the government was right to suspend campaigning and insists that politicians must now work to draw on peoples’ passions in a more unified way.

Recalling Pope  Francis’ words about the future of Europe, both in Strasbourg and more recently in the Vatican, he says they show how well the Latin American pontiff understands the role the continent plays in maintaining stability and prosperity on the global stage.

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