15 January 2022, The Tablet

Serbian church joins in protests over treatment of Djokovic

Serbian church joins in protests over treatment of Djokovic

Srdjan Djokovic compared his son to the crucified Christ who “is alive among us even now”.

Fans of Novak Djokovic have accused Australia of being prejudiced against his Serb nationality and Christian faith, as Orthodox church leaders despatched messages of support to the deported tennis world number one.
Addressing protesters in Belgrade, the star's father, Srdjan Djokovic, said the Australian officials had “persecuted” him in order to “stomp all over Serbia and the Serbian people” and compared his son to the crucified Christ who “is alive among us even now”.
Meanwhile, Serbia’s Orthodox patriarch, whose church claims 12 million followers, mostly in the Balkans, said the Belgrade-born champion had grown up hearing the sound of church bells and praised him for knowing his Christian identity.
“Only a pale shadow will remain of the troubles and tribulations you are going through,” Patriarch Porfirije told Djokovic in an Instagram post, which was met with hundreds of messages of support. “Millions of Orthodox Serbs are praying for you, as you pray for us”.
The statements were published ahead of Friday's decision by Australia’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, to cancel Djokovic's visa for a second time, despite a federal court judgment earlier in the week ordering him to be freed and paid compensation.
Serbia’s president, Aleksander Vucic, also charged Australia with “mistreating and harassing” the 34-year-old tennis star after arriving last week in Melbourne, and pledged that Serbs across the world would “stand with him”.
Djokovic, a devout Orthodox Christian and Covid vaccination sceptic, was detained on 5 January after arriving to seek a record tenth Australian Open victory, when the federal government’s Border Force revoked a medical exemption by the state of Victoria and revoked his visa.
He was deported after judges rejected his challenge to the cancellation of his visa on "health and good order" grounds. Djokovic left on a flight to Dubai, admitting he was disappointed. 
In a YouTube message for the 7 January Orthodox Christmas from Melbourne’s Park Hotel detention centre, the star thanked fans and well-wishers for their support and wished fellow-Christians “peace, family love and an abundance of good things”. A recording of Djokovic lauding the church as “ a guide” and “peaceful place for finding peace and freedom” was also played during a Belgrade rally.  
The Serbian church’s Metropolitanate of Australia and New Zealand protested against Australia’s refusal to allow Djokovic to be visited by a priest during the Christmas season, and accused its government of violating international humanitarian law at the Melbourne centre.
“We have been informed that no religious visits to detainees have been allowed since July 2021. Detainees have been deprived of the spiritual and emotional support of clergy, regardless of religious affiliation,” the Sydney-based Metropolitanate said in a statement. “We warn of this gross violation of fundamental human rights, and call on the responsible authorities urgently to allow free and unhindered access to people who will provide pastoral and emotional support.”
The player, who wears a wooden cross during matches, is reported to have meditated up to an hour daily during London's Wimbledon tournament at the Buddhist Buddhapadipa Temple, and has sponsored many charitable projects via a foundation established in his name in 2007, including the purchase of ventilators and medical equipment for Serbian hospitals during the pandemic.
In 2011, he was awarded the Serbian church’s highest honour, the Order of St Sava, for supporting religious causes, including the safeguarding of historic Orthodox monasteries in his father's native Kosovo.
In its statement, the Serbian Orthodox Metropolitanate said some refugees, including “vulnerable children”, had been detained for over two years at the Park Hotel, adding that “no effort” had been made by Australian officials to facilitate pastoral visits.
Meanwhile, the Orthodox rector of Melbourne's Holy Trinity cathedral, Archpriest Milorad Locard, who was barred from visiting Djokovic, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation the star's treatment had been “appalling”, adding that it was “unthinkable” that he had been forced to spend Christmas incarcerated.
Almost 13,000 coronavirus deaths had been recorded by last week in Serbia, where less than half the population has received a first vaccination, compared to 70 percent across the European Union.
A Czech doubles player, Renata Voracova, was deported last week for not following Covid-19 vaccination requirements in Australia, where 86 percent of citizens have backed government moves to expel Djokovic if his latest court appeal is turned down.    
Serbia’s Catholic Church, whose Belgrade-based International Bishops Conference of Saints Cyril and Methodius has two archdioceses and nine dioceses, apostolic administrations and exarchates in the Balkans, has not commented on Djokovic's fate. 


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