The most prominent religious leader in Montenegro, who once referred to a pilgrimage as “God’s vaccine”, has tested positive for the coronavirus and is in a stable condition, its representatives said on Wednesday.

Amfilohije Radovic, the Serbian Orthodox city bishop of Montenegro and the coast, was diagnosed on Tuesday after a routine health check and was taken to Podgorica, the capital. The 82-year-old metropolitan felt good and was under the “constant care of doctors”, it says on his website.

The Serbian Orthodox Church, by far the largest Christian denomination in Montenegro, has more than 8 million followers worldwide, most of them in Bosnia, Montenegro or Serbia. About three quarters of the Montenegrins are Serbian Orthodox.

During a sermon in May when pilgrims honored a 17th-century bishop in Podgorica, Metropolitan Radovic told believers that while a coronavirus vaccine would be welcome, “there is a vaccine here that has worked over the centuries” reported Reuters. The metropolitan did not wear a face mask at public events.

Metropolitan Radovic, a controversial figure and influential, has argued with the country’s civil authorities over allegations that some religious services have violated coronavirus restrictions. Earlier this year he organized protests against a much debated law that gave the state ownership of some religious buildings and properties. The anti-government feeling aroused by the protests helped oust the Democratic Socialist Party, led by President Milo Djukanovic, in the August elections.

The virus is now spreading as fast in Montenegro as it has at any time during the pandemic. With a population of about 625,000, the country has reported 12,584 coronavirus cases – 2,009 of them in the last week – and 188 deaths, according to a New York Times database.

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