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Cardinal Marc Ouellet waves Wednesday as he arrives for a meeting at the Synod Hall in the Vatican.Reuters

The white smoke flew and the bells rang in the Vatican, and the biggest sign a pope was chosen in Cardinal Marc Ouellet's hometown were the shakes of Mayor René Martineau.

"I'm a bit rattled," Mr. Martineau said, holding up a quavering hand as the selection of a new pope was confirmed, but not his identity.

Most of the 400-odd villagers in La Motte have watched the conclave with a mix of apprehension and excitement knowing their sleepy lakeside town could be changed forever if their Cardinal Ouellet is chosen to lead 1.2-billion Catholics.

Just after 2 p.m., they learned they would not have to wait much longer to find out.

"It's quite a moment," said Mr. Martineau, who has a full time day job as financial controller for a local co-operative. "One more hour and we'll know."

As the news sank in, a slow trickle of people emerged from their homes to gather at the church-turned-community hall to learn the identity of the new pope.

It was the first public show of the collective stake people in La Motte have in the outcome since the world's media turned its eyes to the town 600 kilometres north of Montreal over the past few weeks.

Jean-Remi Asselin, 80, knows the cardinal and sat on school committees with his father, Pierre.

He was unwilling to cheerlead, saying he hoped for Cardinal Ouellet's "own tranquility of spirit" that he wouldn't get it.

"The church has a lot of problems to resolve, and doesn't seem particularly ready to face them," said Mr. Asselin, who described himself as "less religious than (he) used to be."

Mr. Asselin criticized the church, and indirectly Cardinal Ouellet, for hardline stances on women's reproductive rights.

"We're in 2013, not the Middle Ages."