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Fr Martin gets a second chance at life

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Fr Martin Aye Ngwe, Administrator at West Tamar, Tasmania. Photo: Catholic Standard
Fr Martin Aye Ngwe, Administrator at West Tamar, Tasmania. Photo: Catholic Standard

For Fr Martin Aye Ngwe, his life is nothing short of a miracle. Just over 12 months after he was diagnosed with stage four terminal lung cancer, Fr Martin has been given the all-clear from his doctors to return to full time ministry.

After being given a certain death-sentence in July last year, and told he would have to go into palliative care, he is instead taking up his role again as administrator at West Tamar Parish in the Archdiocese of Hobart.

“God has given me a second chance to live now,” Fr Martin said. “God has a purpose for me to continue to live my life.”

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“The doctors said I wouldn’t have long, but I’m still alive. There is a purpose for my life, from God’s point of view … This is a miracle. Definitely.”

Originally from Myanmar, Fr Martin became Administrator at West Tamar in northern Tasmania in 2013. Previously he served in several parishes in the Archdiocese of Sydney.

At the time of his initial diagnosis on 5 July 2022, the cancer had spread from his lungs to his bones, and doctors warned him it would continue to spread rapidly and that he didn’t have long to live.

West Tamar parishioner, Maria Amore, said when Archbishop Julian Porteous came to their church to announce that Fr Martin would need to step aside from his ministry, they knew it was serious.

“When it was officially announced to the parish that Fr Martin was gravely ill and the Archbishop came … and from the pulpit our dear archbishop started crying, that was when for a lot of us parishioners, it hit us that it was true, the reality of it,” Maria said.

Seeing Fr Martin’s condition following a day of initial treatment in hospital, Maria and her husband were convinced he didn’t have long to live.

“I said to my husband, ‘He’s going to die tonight.’ That’s how bad he was. As pale as a ghost and really, really bad.”

From the beginning however, Fr Martin said he decided he was going to fight the cancer, with God’s help.

He made radical changes to his lifestyle, altering his diet, undertaking physical exercise every day, and adopting a positive mindset.

Most importantly of all, he deepened his spiritual life and placed his trust entirely in God.

Fr Martin’s new daily regime included celebration of the Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, and praying the rosary. He also attended the sacrament of confession on a regular basis.

“These four things, Mass, adoration, rosary, and confession, were a kind of antidote or remedy for me to recover quickly from this hopeless case of terminal lung cancer,” Fr Martin said.

“I never complained to God for what happened to me. Instead I gave thanks to God saying, ‘Thank you Lord, you love me so much and you have given me this cross to carry. It is for my own salvation and for the salvation of all mankind, by participating and joining together with the passion of the Lord.’”

“I also prayed to God, ‘If possible, take this cancer, this cross from me, but it is not my will. It is your will. In addition, I would like to ask you Lord to give me courage and strength, because I’m going to fight this cancer with your help.’”

Fr Martin with West Tamar parishioners following his return to full ministry. Photo: Catholic Standard
Fr Martin with West Tamar parishioners following his return to full ministry. Photo: Catholic Standard

While sitting before the Blessed Sacrament, he would focus on his breathing.

“I would spend an hour in sdoration praying, breathing in and breathing out. As I breathed in I would say ‘Jesus’, and when I breathe out, ‘I love you’, 20 times. When I breathe in ‘Jesus’, when I breath out I would say, ‘Heal me’, 20 times.”

Celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass also became an intimate moment of union with Christ’s suffering.

“Whenever I offered the Mass I would pray, ‘Lord, you healed the lady who suffered from a haemorrhage for 20 years … I am receiving you, your body and blood at every Mass, I believe that you can cure me. You created me from nothing and you can recreate me certainly, I believe that.”

Despite the fact he was living alone at the Riverside presbytery, Fr Martin said he never felt abandoned in his suffering.

“The main thing was my faith in Jesus who can heal me. I became stronger day by day … I was together with my heavenly mother and Jesus, I was surrounded by them and I had my courage.”

Just three months after his diagnosis, the cancer had shrunk. His condition continued to improve and he grew stronger every day.

On 15 August this year, the feast of the Assumption, he was told the cancer, while incurable, was under control and that he could return to full-time ministry.

While doctors attributed it entirely to the medication he was taking, for Fr Martin, recovering from terminal cancer was nothing short of miraculous, and had more to do with the power of prayer.

Not only were the Riverside parishioners praying for him, but also family and friends around the world.

“My parishioners were praying for me constantly, and also many people in Sydney at the parishes where I was assigned like Wahroonga, St Ives, Kincumber, Ashfield and Fairfield … the parishioners are very close to me, they love me so much.

“They were also praying for me in my country [Myanmar].”

Maria said she wasn’t shocked at all to hear that Fr Martin’s cancer was under control and he could return to ministry.

“Every time we’d see him we’d think, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s looking better than he looked before he was sick … So yeah, it wasn’t a shock. No, we were expecting miracles.”

Fr Martin said he had told his parishioners that they don’t need to look far afield for miracles, because one is standing right in front of them.

“This is really a miracle God is doing in front of you,” he told them.

“God is good for me, he loves me so much.”

Catherine Sheehan is Communications Manager for the Archdiocese of Hobart and editor of the Catholic Standard newspaper.

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