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Montenegro's senior Orthodox Christian cleric tests COVID-positive

PODGORICA, Oct 7 (Reuters) - The senior cleric of Montenegro’s Serbian Orthodox Church, who avoids mask-wearing and called a pilgrimage “God’s vaccine”, has tested positive for coronavirus, his office said on Wednesday.

Metropolitan Amfilohije Radovic, 82, who wields big political influence as well as heading the largest Christian denomination, was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Tuesday but felt well after a night in hospital in the capital Podgorica.

“He is under constant doctors’ care,” added the statement from his Metropolitanate office.

From December until August this year, Amfilohije played a pivotal role in protests over a contested religious law in the tiny Balkan country of 620,000 people that is a member of the transatlantic NATO alliance and aspiring European Union member.

The dispute over the law, which allowed the state to seize some religious property, helped the opposition win Aug. 30 parliamentary elections and unseat the Democratic Party of Socialists of President Milo Djukanovic.

After the outbreak of COVID-19, Amfilohije appeared regularly in public without a face mask.

During ceremonies in May to honour a 17th century bishop, St Vasilije Ostroski the Miracle Maker, he called the pilgrimage and the revered cleric “God’s vaccine.”

“It would be good if contemporary scientists invent the vaccine ... but before it is found ... there’s a vaccine here which has acted through the centuries,” he said then at the Ostrog Monastery on a cliff near Podgorica.

So far, Montenegro has reported 188 deaths and 12,584 infections from the coronavirus.

The Serbian Orthodox Church has about 12 million followers, mainly in Serbia, Bosnia, and Montenegro. (Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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