December 10, 2014
Mary Queen of All Nations Missionary Alliance in Dover honored on its 30th anniversary
By CECILE SAN AGUSTIN
DOVER On Dec. 8, 1984, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Mary Queen of All Nations Missionary Alliance was born at meeting that drew just four volunteers who wanted to help the poor in the Philippines and India. Within six months, the organization had helped the poorest of the poor in eight countries. And for the past three decades, it has helped the poor in more than 40 countries in four continents – Africa, South America, Asia and Europe.
For its outreach to the poor worldwide, the alliance was honored last Sunday at a dinner at Madison Hotel in Morristown. The celebration also honored several priests including Bishop Emeritus Frank Rodimer, Msgr. John Demkovich, Msgr. Martin Rauscher, Father John Andrew Connell and Father Brendan Murray, who have assisted the alliance in its work over the years.
Merla Ricafranca, the founder of the organization, was also honored for her work. A parishioner of Sacred Heart Parish here, Ricafranca has always felt a calling to serve others. When she was a teenager growing up in the Philippines, she would share her allowance with the poor children living in the slums.
“It broke my heart to see four children sharing a plate a of rice. I would visit them and give them milk and bread,” said Ricafranca, who is now 75.
As she would share what little she had to the children in the slums, Ricafranca felt a calling to religious life. Born with cerebral palsy, she was denied entrance into a religious order three times because of her illness. During that time, she also obtained three degrees. She said she would also always ask God, “What do you want me to do?”
After she was denied entrance a third time, she received a letter from the mother superior who wrote Ricafranca, “God does not want you behind the convent walls. God wants you to be out there in the world.”
“I saw that as my calling,” said Ricafranca.
She came to the United States in 1966 working in the medical field and slowly her ministry blossomed. She began by helping seminarians in the Philippines and later in India. She also sent rosaries and Bibles to mission countries all over the world to share the love of Mary and Jesus.
“I would receive a lot of letters from missionaries asking for help and I have no idea where they would get my information. Sometimes, they would tell me they saw my name in a prayer book,” said Ricafranca. “I guess this was one of God’s ways of spreading the message.”
Before the official formation of the alliance, Ricafranca made several mission trips around the world to India, the Philippines, Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Nigeria and Kenya. “Because of my cerebral palsy, I am physically limited and considered handicapped but I never needed the use of my cane on these trips. God gave me so much strength,” she said.
When she returned, she gave talks at several parishes around the diocese. The decision to officially create Mary Queen of All Nations Missionary Alliance happened following her talk at St. Michael Parish in Netcong. “A parishioner named Mario Henriquez, who worked for the IRS, came up to me after the talk and told me to officially set up an organization as a non-profit. He gave me the paperwork and told me to create a board of trustees,” she said. From that chance conversation, the alliance was born.
Today, the mission of the alliance is to support the poor and needy in the world through established missionaries, help the poor and needy stand on their feet through self-sufficiency projects and provide educational support to rise above poverty. Every single donation collected is used for the poor. Last year, diocesan Catholic Charities honored Mary Queen of All Nations Missionary Alliance with its Caritas Award for Convening. One of its latest projects is helping typhoon victims in the Philippines following Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
A 2014 top-rated nonprofit on the website, www.greatnonprofits.org, the alliance has more than 400 positive reviews. One review from a beneficiary in the Philippines named Melecio Lacsi, who attends a college run by Dominican sisters, reads, “I would like to say thank you for all the support you have given me. You are such a blessing in my life. You give me hope and courage to finish my studies.”
With all this good work being done, Ricafranca is grateful for the support of many including the Sacred Heart parishioners, who have made donations to the alliance.
Father Brendan Murray, pastor of Sacred Heart, feels honored to have Ricafranca as part of the parish community. “I am always amazed by her. She comes to Mass every day and she’s very humble and quiet. It’s amazing the worldwide work she does for the missions. She has bishops and parishes around the world thanking her. She helps seminarians study for the priesthood, small villages build a chapel and she even travels to these places. She is someone who loves the Lord, loves Mary and loves the Church.”