As 1.2 billion Catholics around the world continue to wait for the first signs of a new Pope, roughly 500 people wait anxiously in the town of La Motte, Que.
The potential for La Motte to be brought onto the global stage, not just as the hometown of the next potential pope, but as a place for pilgrimage has locals frightened, says René Martineau, the town's mayor.
“There are people who are afraid of the unknown. They’re afraid they’ll lose their tranquillity,” said Martineau in an interview with the Toronto Star.
The town is home to 439 residents, including family members of Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Canada's only contender to become the next leader of the Catholic Church. Ouellet's hometown is playing host to as many as 50 journalists from around the world, part of the media storm that's overtaken the quiet Quebec municipality and a sign of the international attention that may come if he's voted in by the conclave.
Located 600 km away from Montreal, tranquillity is the price the town pays for having no restaurants, hotels or even stop lights. There's a gas station, an elementary school and a convenience store that doubles as a pharmacy and post office but other than that, there's little else in terms of business.
Visitors looking for lodging usually stay in the nearby town of Amos, located about a 20-minute drive from La Motte. The town of Val-d’Or is another 30 km drive away.
“We’re just a small place but this is already too much to deal with,” said Edna-Annie Wheelhouse, the town's development officer, in an interview with Canada Real Time. “Even if [Ouellet] becomes pope, his childhood home and school doesn’t exist, so we don’t have that much stuff for tourists to see.”
But that doesn't mean there's money to be made. Regional and municipal tourism boards already have plans in place to capitalize on potential travellers such as developing the community centre into a museum that would charge entry fees and sell souvenirs, reports CTV.
Religious tourism generates as much as $8 billion in profit for shrine-focus economies worldwide. In Italy, holy sites like the San Giovanni Rotondo made over C$57 million during the early 2000s, according to Yahoo!
Quebec's notable shrines include St. Joseph’s Oratory, Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Basilica and Notre-Dame du Cap.
In terms of papal-hometown tourism, previous popes have seen anywhere from 200,000 to two million tourist visits. The potential for growth and development for La Motte is astounding but may not be what's best for its residents, says Rachel Cossette, the town's municipal manager and only full-time employee.
“People are worried. There are good and bad tourists. … Not everyone is respectful,” said Cossette in an interview with the Globe and Mail.
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