Our man in the Holy See… but with roots in Cardiff

Nigel Baker with Pope Francis

The Holy Father meets Nigel Baker, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Holy See. Nigel’s roots are in Cardiff!
Picture by permission of L’Osservatore Romano

By James Campbell

I met Nigel Baker, our Ambassador to the Holy See, when in Rome for the dual canonisation of Popes John-Paul II and John XXIII.

From the outside, observing our new Holy Father over his first year as Pope, it was obvious that he was going to do thing differently from Benedict XVI. Pope Francis made the world know that he had made mistakes in the past and had learned from them. Here was a Pope determined to take an active part in world affairs for the benefit of all peoples, not just Catholics.

That was confirmed by Nigel who revealed that his Embassy was a much busier place with Pope Francis’s vow to use “soft power” to influence world affairs, be they from fighting poverty to opposing the violence of nations.

“The Holy Father has moved on the issue of children suffering sexual abuse in the church and has taken the line of zero tolerance?” said the ambassador. “He has co-opted key experts, women and victims, such as Marie Collins, co-opted on to Pope Francis’ commission on setting sex abuse policy, one of eight people — half of them women — who will help craft the panel’s scope and advise the church on best practices to protect children.”

The ambassador also mentioned the reforms of the much-criticised Institute of Religious Works, the “Vatican Bank,” and noted the bringing in of the Australian Cardinal George Pell, appointed to a newly created Secretariat for the Economy in Rome and charged with cleaning up the Vatican’s finances.

“Interest is huge and heads of state want to come here in Rome to meet Pope Francis,” the ambassador added, summing up the new strength humility and humanity brought in by Pope Francis.” Anyone wishing to know about the new approach of Pope Francis should regularly tune in to Nigel Baker’s blog at http://blogs.fco.gov.uk/nigelbaker/

Although much of his career was in South America before being appointed HM Ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel’s roots were in Cardiff.

He told me: “My great grandmother was the first female publican holding a licence in Wales (we believe). She ran the Rhymney Arms Hotel in Cardiff following the death of her first husband in 1919 in the great influenza epidemic (he had been a music hall impresario and had moved with the family from London to Cardiff to run one of the city’s music halls / theatres).

“She then married a British Merchant Navy captain and left Cardiff for the Far East, mainly Shanghai. She did not return until after WWII, having spent much of the war in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp after the capture of Hong Kong.

“My grandmother Freda Harris (her daughter) and Great Uncle Noel Harris were both born in Wales. My grandmother subsequently moved to London where she met my grandfather and settled down.

“My great uncle joined the Welch Regiment as a boy when my great grandmother left for the Far East, and served with them from the 1920s onwards on the North West Frontier, Far East, and in the UK until after WWII, rising through the ranks to Warrant Officer . I still have Welsh cousins to this day living in Cardiff (children and grand children of Great Uncle Noel).”

Ambassador Baker also has another connection with Wales since he and his wife Sasha have a five-year-old son Benjamin who is crazy about rugby.

Hopefully, Benjamin and his parents might be invited to the Millennium Stadium for an international and, with these Welsh roots, they can only support Wales.

Ambassador Nigel Baker’s blog can be found at  http://blogs.fco.gov.uk/nigelbaker

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