Canadian Marc Ouellet was among the cardinals who spread out across Rome to celebrate Sunday Mass at local parishes, providing a chance to see some of the cardinal electors for the papacy up close and in action.

Ouellet is one of the 115 cardinals who will take part in Tuesday’s conclave, when the process of selecting a new leader for the Roman Catholic Church will begin. He is also one of those named as a strong contender for the top job.

The cardinals have been holding meetings ahead of electing a successor to Benedict XVI, who announced his retirement last month.

On Sunday, cardinals ventured to local churches “assigned” to them when they are in Rome. According to tradition, the parishes are assigned to them as clergy of Rome, in order to create a symbolic bond with the pope.

Ouellet arrived at the Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina at around 6:30 p.m. local time to lead a mass.

Other church leaders acknowledged the historic moment at mass, where Roman Catholics and others packed the churches to take photos and take part in the spectacle.

"This Sunday is also special because today we prepare for the conclave," said Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley, in his sermon at Holy Mary of Victory church. "Let us pray that the Holy Spirit illumines the church to choose a new pope who will confirm us in our faith and make more visible the love of the good shepherd."

In his current position as the head of the Vatican’s office for bishops, Ouellet, 68, holds one of the most powerful positions in the church. He regularly consulted with Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II.

Ouellet is well-known for his years of missionary service in Latin America and became a cardinal in 2005. In 2002 he became archbishop of Quebec City.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said on Sunday that the prospect of Ouellet becoming the next pope would be “earthshattering” for Canadian Catholics.

Kenney called Oullet a man of great “authenticity” and “intellect,” and said all Canadians would welcome seeing Canadian as pope.

Despite his popularity in Latin America and his high-ranking position in the Vatican, Ouellet has his critics in Quebec, where some of his comments condemning abortion even in the case of rape have drawn fire. Others say he didn’t do enough to address the issue of sexual abuse by priests in his home province.

Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto, another Canadian participating in the election of the pope, also held a mass in Rome Sunday.

Cardinal Angelo Scola distributed communion at the Church of the Twelve Holy Apostles and spoke about the mission of the church.

"It is to announce over and over again, even to the modern man who is so sophisticated but sometimes lost in the new millennium, to announce always and repeatedly that the Lord's mercy is a source of hope even in these difficult times," Scola, a top pope contender from Milan, said.

Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer asked for prayers for the church during mass at the Church of St. Andrew at the Quirinal, calling it a “difficult time, but also a joyful one and full of hope.”

With files from The Associated Press