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Apostolic visit to Lithuania: calls for Church to reveal expenditure now

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Pope Francis

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Ahead of the papal visit on September 22-23, Lithuanian authorities and the Lithuanian Catholic Church have started putting together a budget for the event to make sure it goes smoothly. Most of the Lithuanian institutions in charge of it have already delivered initial estimates, however the Catholic Church insists it will make its financial reports public only after the visit.

Vilnius Archdiocese argues that the calculating of the costs is tentative and is subject to change. However, Diana Vilytė, head of Lithuania’s Public Procurement Office, exhorts the Church to reveal the numbers now.

In early July, the Lithuanian government decided to remunerate 1.75 million euros of costs related to preparations for the upcoming two-day visit of Pope Francis.

The bulk – over 1.2 million euros – will be allocated to the Catholic Church of Lithuania via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And the VIP Protection Department will receive up to 248,000 euros via the Ministry of the Interior.

Vilnius authorities are set to get up to 109,000 euros, and Kaunas authorities – up to 163,000 euros. Over 28,000 euros will be allocated to the Ministry of Health.

Government Vice Chancellor Alminas Mačiulis, who chaired the papal visit’s working group’s meeting in late July, expressed hope that the apostolic visit will cost less.

«We are trying to specify and discuss things, based on tender results and market prices, what we should spend the money on and what would be excessive,» Mačiulis said.

Meanwhile, the Lithuanian Catholic Church has said in a statement that the Government’s foreseen amount of 1,7 million can be «too big for a pope who is modest and shying any luxury».

The Church said it intends to use the state support to install stages for the papal visit-related events in Vilnius’ Cathedral Square, Lukiškės Square and Kaunas’ Santaka Park (in the latter the solemn pontifical mass will be celebrated by the Pope) as well as to build a small stage at the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius. The technical works of sound and lighting and electrification will also be paid with the state money.

Although tenders are required to purchase state-supported services, procurement will not be needed for the Pope Francis visit-related services.

«To ensure transparency, we call on the Church to make the expenditure layout public. Publicity is indicator of a healthy and mature society. If we publicise, we prevent any scandal as only concealment raises questions and stirs rumours,» Diana Vilytė, director of Lithuania‘s Public Procurement Office, is quoted as saying by Lithuanian media.

However, some of the Church‘s representatives disagrees with the position.

«We have plenty of highly venerable people, including monarchs, kings, heads of states and so on, paying visits to Lithuania. Their respective representations, be it the embassies, foreign funds and et cetera, chip in as a rule to make sure their visits go well here. However, when it comes to the papal visit, all eyes are set on the money, how much the visit will cost and how the money will be used. Not on the other aspects, unfortunately, which are a lot more important to most of the people of faith,»Marius Venskus, the reverend of the Palanga Catholic parish, told BNN.

The Church has said it plans to spend 0.5 million euros of its own funds and also funds from various foundations and donations for the visit.

According to Vilnius Archdiocese, the money will be spent on the preparation of the meeting program, the organisation of registration as well as finding and training volunteers. Moreover, part of the money will be spent on other costs, protection of and transport for the pope.

Pope Francis will visit Lithuania on September 22-23 and later on travel to Latvia and Estonia.

The official program of France’s two-day visit to Lithuania includes a prayer at the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights in Vilnius, as well as meetings with President Dalia Grybauskaitė, government officials and members of the public and diplomats.

The pontiff is also scheduled to visit the Gate of Dawn chapel, to meet with young people in the capital’s Cathedral Square and to visit the Cathedral.

The Holy Father will also go to Kaunas to celebrate Mass in the city’s Santaka Park, to have lunch with bishops and to meet with members of the clergy at the Cathedral of Kaunas.

Over 2,000 people expressed their wish by the beginning of August to volunteer during the papal visit to Lithuania, which is almost double than the organisers need.

As Lithuania, and the Baltics, mark their centennial anniversaries of their statehoods, Pope Francis is interested in «learning» of the independence centennial and the experience of occupation of the Baltic countries, Jack Valero, a Vatican expert, said.

Ahead of the visit, Lithuania‘s inmates were given hope of amnesty, with the Ministry of Justice announcing that ca 400-450 inmates would be affected by proposed amnesty.

«I would suggest against sticking to these numbers as the process would involve personal assessment. The whole process will be thoroughly carried out,» Elvinas Jankevičius, the minister told journalists.

In his words, under the proposed amnesty, around 250 people would be released from prisons and the remaining people would avoid temporary detention as this form of punishment might be abolished altogether, the justice minister said.

However, a controversial advertising campaign introducing the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius as «the G-Spot of Europe», threatens to cast a shadow on the distinguished visit.

The ad’s English text reads: «Nobody knows where it is, but when you find it – it’s amazing». The ad features a young couple.

The Lithuanian government has asked Vilnius authorities to postpone the launch of the advertising campaign to after the end of Pope Francis’ visit, however «Go Vilnius», a public company behind the advertising, did not respond to the request.

Lithuanian PM Saulius Skvernelis claims the advertising campaign does not «cross the morality line, but the timing of its launch should have better considered».

«I think it’s a strange advertising choice but, I believe, it does not cross the line in a democratic country, of our legal regulations and, I think, also of morality norms. As to the timing, we are speaking about a very important for us visit to Lithuania, I have in mind the pope’s visit. So perhaps these steps should been coordinated but that’s the decision of Vilnius,» Skvernelis said on Tuesday.

The Lithuanian Catholic Church has also slammed the advertising campaign, insisting that it will reinforce the image of Vilnius as a sex-tourism city and says it is sexist.


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