ROME (Reuters) - Italy's ambassador to Saudi Arabia has converted
to Islam, the second time in seven years that an envoy of
Rome to the land of Mecca has adopted its religion. Torquato
Cardilli, a career diplomat from overwhelmingly Roman Catholic
Italy, revealed his decision to Saudi newspapers Saturday,
his 59th birthday. Italian diplomatic sources confirmed the
official conversion was made on the eve of the Islamic holy
fasting month of Ramadan, which began on November 16 in Saudi
Arabia. Cardilli himself could not be reached for comment
but an employee at his embassy in Riyadh confirmed the reports.
Saudi embassy in Rome said it planned a statement later. An
embassy spokeswoman said there was no record of any Saudi
ambassador to Italy ever converting to Catholicism. Italy's
Foreign Ministry had no comment.
conversion of Cardilli -- who is married with two children
-- follows the move to Islam made by Mario Scialoja, Italian
ambassador to the Arab kingdom in 1994-95, who has since left
the foreign service and is head of Italy's Muslim League.
Scialoja's decision came as a shock, made while he was Rome's
permanent representative to the United Nations in New York
and long before he was posted to Riyadh. Cardilli's change
of faith follows years of study of Islam.
graduate in oriental culture and languages from the University
of Naples, Cardilli has spent much of his 33-year diplomatic
career in the Muslim world. Following postings in Sudan, Syria,
Iraq and Libya, he took over the embassy in Riyadh in October
last year. Cardilli has also served as ambassador to Albania
personal move comes at a sensitive time, with Italy a member
of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the hardline Islamic Taliban
movement in Afghanistan and barely two months after Prime
Minister Silvio Berlusconi offended the Muslim world by saying
Western Christian civilization was superior to Islam. Corriere
della Sera newspaper said Cardilli had been recalled to Rome
``for consultations.'' Some 3,000 to 5,000 Italians have converted
to Islam from Catholicism in recent years, according to figures
from the Union of Islamic Organizations and Communities.
A spokesman for the Italy-based group said it welcomed Cardilli's
entry into the Muslim community, saying of his conversion:
``The ways of the Lord are infinite.''