LA MOTTE, Que. - The family of a Canadian cardinal many believed could be pope was relieved Wednesday when it didn't come to be.
Siblings of Cardinal Marc Ouellet huddled around their 90-year-old mother in front of a TV on Wednesday to learn the identity of the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
They were glad it wasn't the hockey-loving outdoorsman they watched grow up in this tiny community in Quebec's northwest.
Before the conclave, Ouellet's family said they feared they would never see him again if he became pontiff to the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.
"We went through so many different feelings in the last few days — that it was like a relief," Ouellet's older brother Louis told reporters Wednesday inside the old church in La Motte, a town of 439 people.
"We had mixed feelings so when we learned of the new pope we just cooled down and my mother, she smiled and she said, 'Well, I am keeping my son, in a way.' "
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For a while, Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet was considered one of the front-runners to replace Pope Benedict XVI after the pontiff announced his surprise resignation. While his odds have fallen, Ouellet is still in the running. Here are 13 things you may not know about Canada's papal contender.
Cardinal Marc Ouellet was born on June 8, 1944, in the Quebec town of La Motte. He was the third of eight children (six boys and two girls) and ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Amos on May 25, 1968. (Photo: Graziella Ouellet, 90 year old mother of Cardinal Marc Ouellet at her home in La Motte, Quebec on Feb 13, 2013.)
As a child, Ouellet nearly burned down a barn while playing with matches. (Photo: Marc Ouellet, right, is seen fishing with his younger brother Gilles in this 1956 family photo.)
At 17, after injuring his leg while playing hockey, Ouellet found inspiration in the story of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. She was a French Carmelite nun known as "The Little Flower of Jesus" who died in 1897, at the age of 24, of tuberculosis. (Photo: Marc Ouellet, left, is seen next to his brother Louis, an unidentified cousin, and his father Pierre, left to right in this 1958 family photo.)
Most of his siblings aren’t practising Catholics and two of his sisters are divorced.
Ouellet spent 11 years in Colombia as a missionary and teacher at seminaries in Bogota, Manizales and Cali.
Ouellet speaks six languages: French, English, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. (Photo: In this Oct. 21, 2003 file photo, Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada, Archbishop of Quebec, wearing the three-cornered biretta hat, kisses the hand of Pope John Paul II, during the consistory in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican.)
In 2007, in a letter published in Quebec newspapers, Ouellet apologized for past errors of the Church in Quebec, including "anti-Semitism, racism, indifference to First Nations and discrimination against women and homosexuals."
Ouellet’s brother, Paul, was convicted in 2009 of sexual assault involving two underage girls in the 1980s and early 1990s. Paul Ouellet took out newspaper ads to explain the assaults, The National Post reports.
In May 2010, at a pro-life rally, Cardinal Ouellet called abortion a moral crime, even after rape. He was lambasted by critics who complained that he was out of touch with Quebec society. Quebec’s association of bishops distanced itself from him and issued a statement calling for a rational discussion, The Globe and Mail reports. Photo: Cardinal Marc Ouellet responds to media questions over comments he made on abortion, May 26, 2010 in Quebec City. Archbishop of Ottawa Terrence Prendergast, left, looks on.
From 2002 to 2010, Ouellet was the Archbishop of Quebec City and Primate of Canada. (Photo: Cardinal Marc Ouellet blesses a young male during his farewell Mass in Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre Basilica, 45 minutes east of Quebec City, on Sunday, August 15, 2010, after he was named Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.)
In 2011, Ouellet said that being Pope "would be a nightmare," citing the "crushing responsibility" of the office and the workload of Pope Benedict XVI.
The Times of London reports that Ouellet brokered the recent resignation of U.K. Cardinal Keith O’Brien after priests reportedly came forward to him with allegations the senior cleric had made sexual advances. (Photo: Former Cardinal Keith O'Brien stands in his office at his official residence on February 27, 2013 in Edinburgh, Scotland.)
Stephen Colbert recently dismissed the idea of Ouellet as the next pope on his hit comedy show The Colbert Report, suggesting that the cardinal’s fatal flaw was that he’s Canadian. “The pope cannot be polite,” Colbert quipped. “ 'Sorry, but I think God might not want you to use a condom, eh.' ”
Marc Ouellet was immediately considered a serious contender to inherit St. Peter's throne after former Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation last month.
He was named a bishop by former Pope John Paul II in 2001, archbishop of Quebec City in 2002 and a cardinal in 2003. In 2010, Benedict made him head of the powerful Congregation for Bishops, which vets bishops' nominations worldwide.
His presumed front-runner status put his hometown under the media microscope and took his family members along with it.
Ouellet's brothers, Louis and Roch, spoke to dozens of journalists in recent weeks, many of whom descended on the farming community, which is some 600 kilometre northwest of Montreal.
"We sensed that it could happen one day, but not to this extent — definitely not to this extent," said Roch Ouellet, the younger brother of the cardinal who was seen in 2005 as a long-shot contender for the papacy.
"There can be some disappointment, but it's a brief disappointment... Listen, we knew that we were going to lose a brother."
He said their biggest focus amid the media frenzy was the well-being of their mother, Graziella.
As they waited anxiously Wednesday for the introduction of the new pope, he said their smiling mom appeared to be the calmest person in their house. Roch said Graziella was proud of the cardinal, the third-eldest in the Ouellet brood of six boys and two girls.
In the minutes before the name of the new pope was unveiled, hearts were also beating in the basement of La Motte's St-Luc church. The area had been converted into a media room to accommodate some 50 journalists who flooded a town with only one business, a general store.
About a dozen residents from La Motte and a few neighbouring communities came into the media room to watch the result alongside journalists. Most stared at the screens silently while awaiting the result.
"We just lived through something really emotional," said La Motte resident and devoted Catholic Rita Larouche, who's known Marc Ouellet since 1956.
"We're still very proud of him."
Marthe Beliveau said she was pleased with the result for Graziella, whom she described as very concerned heading into the papal selection.
"We're not happy, but we are happy," said the La Motte resident, who spoke to Ouellet's mother about 10 days earlier.
"We're disappointed because we would have liked it — it would have revitalized the parish a little bit."
Many in the peaceful municipality feared the overnight transformation to becoming the birthplace of a pope would shatter the tranquility that lured them there in the first place.
Others, however, were eager to roll out a welcome mat for the potential influx of tourists — and their wallets.
The mayor of La Motte told reporters he was proud, disappointed and relieved following the conclave — all at the same time.
"(We're) disappointed because Mr. Ouellet was not chosen, but relieved because we're moving on and we'll know what our future holds," Mayor Rene Martineau said.
Martineau even looked several years down the road at the possibility Ouellet's name could re-emerge as a candidate for the papacy one more time. Martineau noted that freshly appointed Pope Francis is 76 years old and Ouellet is just 68.
He underlined the experience his town, which has just two full-time employees, accumulated while navigating a wave of national and international media attention.
"There's a probability that in 10 years we will restart this scenario, but we're not afraid — we're ready," said Martineau.
The Ouellet family, however, said they weren't immediately ready to re-live the intense media scrutiny they felt over the last few weeks.
One painful family story about Ouellet's brother Paul resurfaced after the cardinal was named a contender.
Paul Ouellet was convicted a few years ago of sexual assault involving two minors, stemming from incidents in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Roch Ouellet was asked Wednesday whether his brother's criminal past may have tarnished the Quebec cardinal's candidacy to lead a church that has been overwhelmed by scandal linked to sexual abuse by priests.
He delivered a sharp response to the reporter: "Let's move on to another question please."
Louis Ouellet made a point of mentioning the pressure the family felt in the opening statement they had prepared to open the news conference.
"It is with great joy that we will welcome our brother back this summer to spend time with the family in peace and tranquility, far from the media," he said, reading the statement in front of a line of national TV news cameras.
Later in the news conference, he added: "We saw our brother twice a year and we love our brother, so we will see him again."