VILNIUS, Lithuania — Tourism officials in Lithuania’s capital are coming under fire from the Catholic Church for a highly sexualized advertising campaign to promote the city as Pope Francis prepares to visit the country next month.
The campaign features a woman lying on what looks like a bed sheet printed with a map of Europe, her hand gripping Lithuania in a way that suggests sexual pleasure. The text above her reads: “Vilnius, the G-spot of Europe” and “Nobody knows where it is, but when you find it, it’s amazing.”
Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said Tuesday he does not find the campaign, set to be launched Thursday in London and Berlin, offensive to standards of public decency, but acknowledged its timing was “rather weird.”
“I think it’s a strange advertising choice, but I believe it does not cross the line in a democratic country,” Skvernelis told Lithuanian public broadcaster LRT.
Francis’s Sept. 22-25 tour of Baltic countries is supposed to start in Lithuania, where Catholics are the religious majority. Lutherans historically predominate in the other two Baltic states, Estonia and Latvia.
“As to the timing, we are speaking about a very important visit to Lithuania,” the prime minister added, referring to the pope’s visit. “So perhaps these steps should have been coordinated, but that’s the decision of Vilnius.”
Lithuanian priests expressed concerns that the ad used “women’s sexuality for advertising” and gave “wrong ideas” about Vilnius, a city with a population of 540,000. The government earlier originally asked Vilnius officials to postpone the ad’s launch until after the papal visit.
Inga Romanovskiene, the manager of the Go Vilnius tourism agency behind the campaign, called the pope’s visit “a very important event.”
Vilnius faces “a very high level of competition from other European cities” when it comes to marketing, and those who presented the campaign had “an extremely engaging idea to drive interest in the city,” she added.
Francis will be the second pope to travel to the Baltic States, 25 years after St. Pope John Paul II, who visited the three countries in September 1993.
Crux staff contributed to this report.