LA MOTTE, Que. – The tiny hometown of Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet was besieged Tuesday by dozens of journalists — creating a sudden jump in the local population of almost 10 per cent.
The papal contender’s northwestern Quebec village of 439 people had around 40 media people within its borders as the conclave to choose a new pope began Tuesday in Rome.
News teams started arriving en masse over the last couple of days. No pope was elected Tuesday, which means the journalists will remain in the area for at least another day.
Two dozen vehicles — including five news satellite trucks — were parked outside La Motte’s old church while the cardinals cast their ballots thousands of kilometres away.
Ouellet was baptized and ordained as a priest in the building, which is now primarily a community centre due to declining church attendance in the area. Local officials expect around 50 journalists will visit the town during the conclave and have transformed the church basement into a media room.
The co-owner of the only business in La Motte said many of her usual clients are steering clear of her general store to avoid the journalists.
“I have some customers who are very shy to come to the store, they are waiting until the journalists are gone,” said Lise Breault, whose shop is across the street from the church.
“It makes for a lot of activity in the village. It’s changing our lives.”
Breault said several of her regulars have phoned in advance to find out if news crews are near her store. She added, however, that journalists have helped boost sales by buying coffee, chocolate and chips.
Business was also better than usual for Breault thanks to the influx of curious “tourists” from around the region who stopped in town to see what was going on.
Many others were happy to see so much media in the centre of the village. La Motte resident Denis Lemay said he hoped the attention would help the economy in the otherwise-sleepy town.
“For sure, it changes the village a lot,” said Lemay, who dropped into the store.
“But it could help out a lot as well. It’s good to take advantage of it as it happens.”
Ouellet is among those in the running to be the new pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.
He and 114 other cardinals have sealed themselves inside the famed Sistine Chapel to pick a successor to former Pope Benedict XVI, who retired last month after eight years in office.
Black smoke billowed Tuesday from a special chimney installed on the roof of the Vatican, indicating that no decision had been reached.
The election of the new pope will be signalled by a puff of white smoke.
The 68-year-old Ouellet holds a powerful post in the Vatican, where he plays a key role in the selection of bishops and archbishops around the world.
The centuries-old process for choosing a new pope is veiled in secrecy and the chapel has been swept for listening devices by Vatican security.
Several rounds of balloting could be held and the conclave will go on until a new pontiff is chosen.
Some Canadians plan to monitor the events a little more closely.
Auravelia Colomer, 27, cashed in all her annual vacation time to make the pilgrimage to Italy. The Toronto public-relations consultant originally planned to arrive in Rome for Holy Week but changed her schedule when the conclave was announced.
She waited on standby over the weekend before finally securing a flight for Tuesday night.
“I thought I needed to be there,” Colomer said. “It’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it’s going to be historic.”
She’s hoping to get there before the decision is made and “run over to St. Peter’s Square and camp out until I see the smoke.”
Colomer said it’s long been her dream to be present for such a pivotal moment for the Catholic faith, but admits “the possibility of a Canadian pope is also a driving factor.”
Cardinals held a final discussion Monday on the type of man best suited for the job.
Some wonder whether Catholics need a solid manager to address the Vatican bureaucracy and controversies over scandals and alleged corruption or a more inspirational figure to bring more people into the church.
Some possible candidates are Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, and Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer.
— With files from Paola Loriggio in Toronto