Parish joy as grotto shines light on devotion to Mary

After his shock lung cancer diagnosis in July, West Tamar Parish Priest, Fr Martin Aye Ngwe, was ‘so happy’ that he was able to see two key events take place in his parish.

Namely, the consecration of St Francis Church at its new location on the West Tamar Highway at Riverside earlier this year, as well as the blessing of a grotto, next to the entrance to the church. 

With both events, parishioners say the parish is entering a new chapter of faith and vitality. 

For Fr Martin, who was born in Myanmar, the Grotto of Our Lady of Grace was a project close to his heart, and it began before he was diagnosed with cancer. 

Parishioner Rosa McManamey, explained: “Fr Martin has great devotion to Mary. It dates back to when he was a child and there was a typhoon in Burma [now Myanmar]. And his mother and all his brothers and sisters stayed up all night praying the Rosary. And in the morning, theirs was the only house still standing.  

 “The grotto just meant so much to Fr Martin. He has a great love for Our Lady and he started working on establishing the grotto before he knew about his illness.  

“Since then, we have been praying for a miracle.”

The Grotto of Our Lady of Grace at Riverside. Photo: Supplied

Mrs McManamey said the grotto was a simple and beautiful tribute to Our Lady. 

“With the church consecration and the grotto, the parish feels very alive and vital,” she added.   

Another parishioner, Maria Amore, explained that Fr Martin had felt the first pains of his illness while he was digging out roots near the site of the grotto, and this prompted him to seek urgent medical treatment. 

“He feels that Mary is protecting him,” Mrs Amore said. 

“The whole parish has a great devotion to Mary.” 

The parish continued to be inspired by Fr Martin’s faith in Mother Mary, according to Diane Kapper.  

“The grotto is important because of the presence of Our Mother,” she said. 

“There is a human concept of a mother present with her children: One who has time for togetherness, time for prayer, time to have a personal conversation, Adoration, honour, and listening, and to experience the motherly love.” 

Bert van Galen described the grotto as a beautiful treasure to the church that inspired deep and faith-filled reflection. 

“My impression is we come to Mary, and then we find Christ,” he said. 

Coby Vautin was a driving force behind the establishment of the grotto. 

She said simply: “We are a fantastic parish with a great devotion to Mary and in support of Fr Martin.”  

The blessing of the grotto took place at sunset on the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As the light fell, more than 60 people gathered for the ceremony. Against the sounds of rush-hour traffic whizzing past on the nearby highway, the grotto was an oasis of peace. 

With a big smile, Fr Martin, 54, assisted by parish administrator Fr Fidelis Udousoro, said it was a joyful day for him and the parish. 

He said the blessing of the grotto was a visible sign of faith as he consecrated the West Tamar Parish under the guidance of Mary, Our Lady of Grace. 

Afterwards, he said he was grateful to have lived to see the blessing of the grotto and the consecration of church. He described Mother Mary as ‘co-redemptress for the salvation of humankind’.   

“I prayed to Mother Mary, and my people pray, and I thank God for letting me continue to live to this day,” he said. 

“I thank and send special blessings to all donors devoted to Our Lady, not only from this parish but from all around Australia for their generosity in helping us to achieve this.” 

He asked that people continue to pray for him. 

Following the blessing of the grotto, Mass was celebrated for the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Parishioners then shared supper in the church hall and welcomed Fr Fidelis, who has been appointed administrator for the immediate future as Fr Martin continues his medical treatment, into the parish community.   

Tags: News, Northern Deanery, West Tamar