Nigel Baker

Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of UK in Holy See

8th February 2013

Aggiornamento: Every Institution needs It

Prime Minister David Cameron

50 years ago, everyone in Rome was talking about “aggiornamento”. There is no English word that translates it perfectly, but in prosaic terms it means “bring up to date”, as well as “revision” or “renovation”. The word was used by Pope John XXIII to describe and set out the task of the Second Vatican Council. The Council Fathers were to renovate the Roman Catholic Church to make its structures, teachings and image fit and relevant for a rapidly changing world.

“Aggiornamento” came to my mind recently when attending a conference hosted at the Pontifical Gregorian University by the French and German embassies to the Holy See on 50 years of German-French Friendship at the Service of Europe. The invited speakers, EU Commissioner Michel Barnier and Saarland Minister President Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, spoke eloquently about the role of their two countries in rejecting ‘the hereditary curse of history’ in the noble cause of European peace and reconciliation, in particular through the development of the EU. I was struck by the fact that both also spoke of the need for the EU to remain flexible, to respond to the changes going on around it (globalisation, the internet, the new emerging economic powers), and to look to the future.

Striking, because this was the essence of Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech on Europe on 23 January. Many who have not read it have criticised it as being somehow anti-European. Yet Mr Cameron said explicitly that “Britain’s national interest is best served in a flexible, adaptable and open European Union and … such a European Union is best with Britain in it”.  The Prime Minister argued for a renovated EU that must be more competitive, flexible, with power flowing back to member states where this is right, properly accountable to national parliaments, and fair for its members. These five principles are, he made clear, critical to the renovation the EU needs.

In other words, “aggiornamento”. 50 years on from Pope John XXIII’s words and the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and 50 years from the coming together of France and Germany to construct a new Europe, it is time for another great institution to bring itself up to date, to revise, to renovate. Every institution needs “aggiornamento”. Vatican II did it for the Catholic Church. Now it’s time for the EU, in David Cameron’s words, “for the prosperity of our peoples for generations to come”

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3 comments on “Aggiornamento: Every Institution needs It

  1. Nigel Baker says and portrays, citing the very trustful “lesson” of PM Cameron, the truth: undergoing “aggiornamento” means to treat and consider every spiritual, economic, political reality as a relevant factor in the building of our society and religious freedom. best regards
    Luigi Colacino Cinnante Rome Università “La Sapienza”

  2. I agree with you Ambassador Baker,

    With reference to reporting on the speech of Britain’s Prime Minister — we journalists are at times too much in a hurry and too superficial. We also need “aggiornamento.”

    I hope you like my article below.

    With kind regards,
    Lisa Palmieri-Billig



    Thursday 14 February 2013

    Ratzinger, the Jewish People and Israel: Faithful to the trail blazed by Wojtyla

    The curtain falling prematurely on Benedict XVIth’s papacy brings to mind the evolution of his relations with the Jewish People and Israel.

    Lisa Palmieri Billig

    My initial and lasting impressions of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dating back to the early 1990s when he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, are that of a kind, cordial, refined, sensitive, reflective man who listens attentively, with a smile, and replies thoughtfully looking one straight in the eyes. At the time, he granted me his first and perhaps only interview with a Jewish journalist regarding Catholic theology.

    Entitled “Jews and Judaism in the Universal Catechism”( and recorded partially in German), it appeared in “Midstream” for American Jewish readers and in “Studi Cattolici” for Italians. He displayed special sensitivity to the avoidance of any vestiges of anti-Judaic references in the text of the new catechism, especially regarding the Pharisees, and stressed that the roots of Jesus’ message were to be sought in the Jewish tradition, study of the Torah.

    Ever thereafter, I always received a warm greeting whenever we chanced to meet on Vatican grounds. Once, accompanied by his then secretary Msgr. Josef Clemens, spotting me outside the Vatican Press Room, he quickly crossed Via della Conciliazione just to say hello.

    Joseph Ratzinger preserved this special quality of unassuming old-world courtesy right through his papacy, along with his special regard for relations with Jews. Soon after his election, even before inviting delegates of fraternal Christian Churches, he received a delegation of representatives of world Jewry. There, as in our encounter at the Congregation years earlier, he displayed the same modesty and talent for personal communication. Instead of sitting on his throne with visitors lined up to meet him, he walked from one person to another, shaking hands, engaging each in unhurried conversation. He always looked deeply into the eyes he met, never through them.

    As Cardinal and then Pope, Joseph Ratzinger’s familiarity with the Jewish tradition and People grew. His early theological treatises, including a speech he gave as Cardinal at a Jerusalem conference organized by Rabbi David Rosen (the American Jewish Committee’s International Director of Interreligious Relations) on “Religious Leadership in a Secular Society”, were rather stiff and removed from the realities of contemporary, living Judaism. But during that trip he made a statement later to be echoed by John Paul II that, “The Jewish People have a right to live in the land of Israel.”

    Regarding the Jewish religion, Benedict XVIth’s papacy was characterized by great empathy, by fidelity to the precepts of “Nostra Aetate” and by a sense of the theological and moral imperative to heal historic wounds caused by the Shoah and by centuries of the Christian teaching of contempt for Jews as “Christ-killers”. In his second and most recent book on Jesus, his theological research led him to once more exonerate Jews from all responsibility for the death of Christ.

    His papacy was not without hurdles with respect to interreligious relations – especially regarding Buddhism and Islam, with which the Church still faces serious confrontations. Within the Catholic-Jewish dialogue, issues arose when he moved Pius XII closer to sainthood by recognizing his “Heroic Virtues” (but not moving beyond this) just before his visit to the Rome Synagogue. Another crisis broke out with Benedict XVIth’s attempts at bringing the more traditionalist wing of the Church, including the excommunicated Lefebvrian priests of the Society of Pius X (SSPX) back into the fold, leading him unwittingly to include the Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson. And ongoing conversations between the Secretariat of State and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel were necessary to settle the upset over Pope Ratzinger’s resuscitating the Good Friday prayer “For the Conversion of the Jews” of the pre-Vatican II Latin mass.

    Yet one of Benedict XVIth’s most praiseworthy attributes has been his propensity to admit errors, apologize and try to set things right. Benedict XVIth publicly admitted to not having been aware of “bishop” Williamson’s positions. He forthwith ordered his collaborators to improve their media and internet work and communicate more assiduously with him.

    Strict guidelines were issued regarding conditions for full readmission of the SSPX members to the Church, entailing full acceptance of Vatican II – conditions that have to date not been realized (and may never be, also because of their underlying anti-Semitism still evident on SSPX international internet sites and blogs). The Good Friday prayer was rewritten by the Pope himself and, although the title still reads “For the Conversion of the Jews” (an error to be rectified in the next edition, we are told) the most offensive passages of the original have disappeared.

    Following faithfully in the trail blazed by the blessed Pope John Paul II, Benedict XVIth from the very beginning and repeatedly thereafter decried the horrors of the Nazi era in his native Germany and warned against anti-Semitism. His first trip outside Italy included a visit to the Grand Synagogue of Cologne. In time, this was followed by his pilgrimage to Israel and visit to the Grand Synagogue of Rome. These gestures, and his many meetings with international Jewish delegations in Rome and during his travels were in clear and sincere continuity with his great predecessor. His words and deeds have had clear intent.

    The large majority of Jewish leaders the world over have expressed feelings of appreciation and friendship for Joseph Ratzinger, and are wishing him a peaceful, healthy transition into his later years, hoping he will continue to contribute his valuable theological insights with further publications. By the same token, they are hoping that his successor will continue to bear the torch of dialogue, respect, and cooperation first lit by John XXIII and Vatican II, and carried, with increasing impetus, throughout the subsequent papacies.

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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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