The United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth sent two presents to Pope Benedict XVI on April 15. Her first gift was a telegram containing best wishes for the pontiff’s 84th birthday tomorrow, and the second was a new U.K. ambassador to the Holy See.
Nigel Baker is the man chosen as Her Majesty’s latest representative to the Vatican. According to The Telegraph newspaper, 44-year-old Baker worked briefly at the British Conservative Party’s headquarters in the late 1980s. Interestingly, one of his co-workers there is the now British Prime Minister, David Cameron. Since joining the U.K. Foreign Office in 1989, Baker has held postings in Prague, Havana and most recently Bolivia, where he was ambassador. He also spent three years as Private Secretary to Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales.
The U.K. Foreign Office says Baker knows Italy well, having spent an academic sabbatical in Verona and Naples between 1996 and 1998. While he isn’t a Catholic, his Slovakian wife, Sasha, is. They have one son.
Upon his appointment Baker said, “I am delighted and honoured to be taking up this posting. The last few years have seen the development of a strong and fruitful global partnership between the United Kingdom and the Holy See. The historic visit of Pope Benedict XVI in September 2010 reinforced that relationship and opened new avenues for bilateral and multilateral collaboration.”
The new ambassador said he looks forward to the “challenge of deepening our engagement across the many issues on which we work together.”
Baker takes over from Francis Campbell, the first Catholic to hold the post of ambassador to the Holy See since the English Reformation in the 16th century.
Prior to today’s appointment, there had been speculation that the ambassadorship would be offered to one of several prominent Catholic politicians. Names bandied about included the former Conservative government minister and Catholic convert, Anne Widdicombe, as well as the former Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament, Lord David Alton.
The Treasurer of the U.K. Parliament’s All Party Group on the Holy See, Angus Brendan MacNeil MP, told CNA that the new ambassador has big job ahead of him, “Francis Campbell certainly leaves big shoes to fill. So I wish Mr Baker well. The biggest challenge for him will be to build upon the great success of last year’s Papal Visit to Scotland and England.”
Baker will take up his appointment during August 2011.