Rita Hegglin-Besmer

Born in 1961 in Zug, Switzerland, mother of six children (at the age of 24-34, twins with X-fragile-syndrom), four grandchildren; apart from her task as a housewife working as a housekeeping-teacher, curative pedagogue and catechist, dorn-breuss-massage therapist, volunteer in her parish and in refugee relief. Commitment tot he women and mother’s federation in Switzerland; leader of two groups of women’s league.

I no longer wear woollen stockings.

I grew up at the beginning of the 1960s in the German part of Switzerland. There we wore woollen stockings throughout winter. I hated them, because I developed an allergic rash that itched. As a child I wanted to be outside, to ride a bike, get to know the world, my grandparents’ chickens, the tricycle. I often felt lonely. My mother had many worries and was often sick, and sometimes didn’t notice that I needed more affection. I spent weeks at a time with my grandparents. I loved my grandfather, even though I was afraid of his temper. My room was right next to that of my grandparents. My grandfather died far too early. I heard at night how he struggled to breathe, and lay awake filled with anxiety. At home I didn’t have a room of my own, although my elder brother did. I slept in the living room until I was 14. My father was very quiet, but I was happy when he was there, because then my mother didn’t nag me as much. Actually she meant it well with me, but she had such clear ideas of how I should be, that I often had the impression that I would never be able to satisfy her ideals.

When I felt lonely I often entrusted my worries to the Blessed Mother at home. I was in lively contact with her. I can remember that when I was 8 I had a very intensive experience in the crypt of a church. I realised that the truths of our faith are real, and that Mary truly is the Mother of God. This connection with my heavenly Mother was very important to me, because I lacked motherly people in everyday life. I admired warm-hearted mothers. I always felt happy to be with them. I envied everyone whose mother could make things, bake or undertake things. When I was young there were also women who had no children, but whom I experienced as very motherly, caring, creative and independent. I avoided women whose most important goal was to have a career and success. I avoided strict, authoritarian and over-organised women. I felt out of place with them.

My daughters would one day be allowed to decide freely.

On the other hand I wanted a job that I could enjoy, and I found it unjust that my brother was sent to the Gymnasium and could study to be a doctor. I had no possibility to become a nurse or doctor. I would have loved to go to Africa or Asia to help in a hospital. However, my parents didn’t want to send me to a Gymnasium, because they thought I would do better as a teacher. I don’t deny that I am happy to work with children, so I was also happy in this profession. However, my longing to help people didn’t simply disappear. My daughters would one day be allowed to decide freely, and they have done so.

As a young teacher I got to know a teacher who was four years older than me. He told me he was not looking for a girl friend, but a wife. He no longer wanted to enter into an emotional relationship without a definite goal. I was personally stuck in a hopeless relationship that was coming to an end, and was happy about his clarity. This teacher had a home shrine with an MTA picture in his flat. I had never seen anything like it before. A young man who prayed and entrusted all his difficulties to the Mother of God. It impressed me and three months later we were engaged. Through him I got to know the Schoenstatt Movement and we studied the basis of Fr Kentenich’s pedagogy. Since he was involved with the men’s movement, I wanted to join the women and involved myself in founding the Federation for women and mothers in Switzerland. I have to admit that I have remained critically connected with our Movement. I am not prepared to do things out of habit; attachment may not constrain me or be an expression of force. I want to decide for myself, and I want to strengthen young women on their path, and help them discover their motherly qualities in their relationship to the Blessed Mother.

I have noticed in particular that our world has become cold during the Corona crisis.

From the first day of the lockdown alarm bells rang within me. I considered it inhuman for old people to be isolated. I was afraid that if our adult disabled twins were to be admitted to hospital I could be separated from them. It made me helpless and strong. I was only afraid of the virus for one night. Then I know that if need be I would rather risk my own life. St Francis who visited lepers was my example. In this cold world I felt strongly that motherly people were needed to spread warmth while observing all the precautionary measures so that the human element did not die. For me God lives so much in others that I cannot be indifferent, even though I have learnt to distinguish where I was needed.

Everyday life is filled for me with God’s closeness.

In the eyes of my grandchildren, in the anguish of the young Ethiopian mother I am looking after, in the women’s groups I am accompanying, in the beauty of God’s creation, in the Lago di Saoseo, in the snow-covered mountains, the vast ocans, but also in the flowers and fruits of a garden. When I cannot feel God, when my soul has lost its resilience, I become sad. Then I look for God’s closeness in the shrine, in the Eucharist. I always need visions.

If I can help younger women to discover their own motherliness, I am in my element and nothing can stop me. For me the family is not just my core family. Our house is open to everyone. I never wanted a house without a task. Our home has to bring people together, it has to help people to come closer to one another and experience something of God’s mystery, the mystery of triune Love.

Mary teaches me repeatedly to give myself completely in my everyday life and not to look for my own self-realisation. That is what I see as purity of heart. To keep nothing for myself, to give no place to aggression, always to move towards HIM, who made himself small in order to come to meet us from the womb of his Mother. When I succeed in giving myself in this way, when other people around me draw strength, I am happy. These are very practical experiences: When I notice how my elder children get involved with the younger siblings, when I see happiness in the eyes of our disabled twins, when I can help a mother with my advice, when we help one another, pray and sing together, laugh and play. No one may feel excluded and alone. I owe that to a little girl who had to wear woollen stockings even when they itched.