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Tiny village of Canadian papal contender prepares for media invasion

LA MOTTE, Que. – A media centre was being set up Monday in the hometown of Canada’s presumed papal contender, as the tiny community prepares for a journalistic invasion during the upcoming vote to choose the next pontiff.

With Marc Cardinal Ouellet considered among the papal front-runners, people in this northwestern Quebec village of 439 people began transforming the basement of his old church into a media room.

Ouellet was baptized and eventually ordained as a priest in La Motte’s St-Luc Church, in the heart of town. Today, the building serves primarily as a community centre after years of dwindling church attendance.

Village officials expect dozens of journalists — and several satellite TV trucks — will descend on La Motte during the upcoming conclave to choose the next pontiff. The farming community is nearly 600 kilometres northeast of Montreal in the province’s Abitibi region.

The village does not have a restaurant or motel so, with the help of its two full-time office employees, La Motte is taking steps to make its influx of guests feel welcome.

Workers were busy Monday in St-Luc’s basement, where they opened up a wireless Internet connection, established cable TV hookups to allow journalists to follow the conclave live, and set up rows of tables and dozens of chairs.

Members of Ouellet’s family, who still live in the area, are scheduled to hold a post-conclave news conference on the main floor of the building, near the altar.

They are expected to make public remarks, regardless of the vote outcome.

A date for the conclave has not yet been established by the cardinals, but an announcement is expected in the coming days.

Even though voting has yet to begin, La Motte is getting ready now for something it’s never experienced before.

“Here the citizens are used to their peaceful setting, so we have to make sure that the citizens of the (town) are not disturbed that much by… all these (extra) people,” said Edma-Annie Wheelhouse, one of the municipality’s two full-time office workers.

“We’re a very welcoming place and we want to make sure that the way we are — the gentle kindness of the citizens — around the place… is just shown to the international media.”

With the help of the regional Abitibi tourism bureau, La Motte is also asking media to sign up before heading to the town during the conclave.

Wheelhouse expects journalists to spend many hours at the media centre, several days in a row, as they wait for the white smoke to billow at the Vatican.

La Motte does not have a hotel, so any visitors will have to stay in larger cities that are at least a 30-minute drive away.

When it comes to grub, the village has a convenience store but no restaurants. Wheelhouse said the community will hire a caterer to serve up breakfast, lunch and dinner.

She said around 20 media organizations — from Canada, the United States and France — have visited the town since Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation last month.

“It’s really new for us,” Wheelhouse said of all the attention. “Before this, we were really unknown.”