I returned yesterday from a marvelous vacation with a ton of family members in Milwaukee, Chicago and River Forest. We spent wall-to-wall days celebrating as one should with family during this beautiful season – Masses, of course, long, fun meals, hours with the young and young at heart, lots of football games, a great animated child’s movie, “Sing,” and so very much laughter! So many feel-good moments of shared joy!

Being with the young ones is what this time of year is all about! They put so many things into perspective for those of us who are (we hope) all grown up!

The Milwaukee festivities included a family reunion of my niece Christie’s husband, Bryan Ortwein, together with his 6 sisters, 1 brother and parents. For three days there were 13 or 14 of us at breakfast and for several nights, 36 of us for dinner, each night at a different home, including Christie and Bryan’s. More about those gatherings (with photos) tomorrow as I participated in some family traditions that could easily be imitated (or perhaps they already are) by other families.

Chicago was two days of intense fun, including a visit to Lewis Towers (built by my great uncle Frank J Lewis), lunch and dinner with the Ortwein clan, lunch with my sister-in-law at RL restaurant and dinner with Fr. Dan Flens, a long time secretary to the late Cardinal Francis George. Before dinner we visited the cardinal’s residence where Cardinal George and Fr. Dan lived for years. The wonderful Albertine sisters who cared for Cardinal George for 15 years still live at the residence, as does another good friend, retired Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Goedert. (Cardinal Cupich chose not to live here; he lives in a suite of rooms at Holy Names Cathedral).

The nuns always do a beautiful job of decorating a very large Christmas tree and setting up a lovely Nativity Scene with figurines from Rome. Fr. Dan, my sister in law Anne and I had a great visit with the sisters and Bishop Goedert, enjoyed the tree and prayed in the exquisite chapel, small but awesome, of the residence.

River Forest was a reunion with two cousins who are sisters, Deb and Diane, who had spent 10 days with me in Rome in September and October, and Diane’s husband Tom. Again, more great food and conversation, some football games and so much laughter I could barely breathe!

It is amazing how one can burn both ends of the candle during the holidays and yet feel excited, rejuvenated, hopeful and anxious to meet and greet the future and new people and events and places – even after a long plane trip and some jet lag! A great night’s sleep is the remedy for that.

For those of you who travel, especially frequently, allow me to do some PR for two airports.

I flew to Chicago on Air Canada via Toronto – a truly beautiful, functional and welcoming airport. In particular, it has special passport control and luggage procedures in place for welcoming Americans back home so that when we arrive at our U.S. destination, the paper work is all done.

There is one area dedicated to this transfer where monitors posted on the wall let you know your luggage has been offloaded from one flight and is being transferred to another. Your initials and last name appear on the monitor as does your final destination, at which point your can proceed to passport control and then on to your next flight.

My flight to Chicago was in Concourse F where, after walking through a duty free shopping area, I saw what I believe to be scores, possibly hundreds, of tablets on dozens and dozens of tables. The tables and sitting area, including armchairs, were near the departure gates and the tablets had a number of icons that, when touched, allowed travelers to order food and drink and to pay via credit card on the adjacent card reader. You could also access emails, play computer games and get updated ìnfo on your flight, as well as many other options – all free. This is a fascinating and friendly way to keep travelers busy but you really must keep checking your watch so that, in the process of having fun, you don’t miss your flight!

My flight to Rome was on Lufthansa via Munich. Lufthansa and its subsidiarity, Swiss, are my favorite European airlines. No matter the class, in my dozens of trips with both of these airlines, I have always found the service to be marvelous where multi-lingual personnel are constantly polite, helpful and caring.

I had not been in Munich in a while and I would rate this airport 11 on a scale of 10 . It has had a great makeover and if I thought it was good before, it is great now. I was able to enjoy Lufthansa’s Senator Lounge in the time I had to spare before my flight to Rome and it was the most impeccable experience I have ever had in an airline lounge, including the huge variety of food in the buffet.

As we boarded the plane for Rome, we had been watching snow fall – it was beautiful and holidayish, of course, but also delayed our flight as every plane taking off had to be de-iced twice, once at the gate and a second time immediately before takeoff. As we waited out that hour, I think some of us were dreaming of the Senator lounge!

Here I am, back in Rome, safe and sound, and energized for the New Year.

I saw this headline last night after my return to Rome: “Hilarion Capucci, priest and Middle East activist, dies.” That led to an AP story on a man I interviewed 30 years ago in the Vatican for the National Catholic Register (well before it was part of the EWTN family). At that time, the expression most often used to describe Bishop Capucci was “Palestinian gun runner.”

The AP story lead: “Monsignor Hilarion Capucci, who was a Greek Melkite Catholic archbishop in Jerusalem when Israel convicted him in 1976 of using his diplomatic status to smuggle arms to Palestinian militants in the occupied West Bank, has died. He was 94. Both the Vatican and the Greek Melkite Catholic patriarchate on Monday confirmed reports the Capucci had died in Rome, but did not say when or provide other details.”

HERE is the whole story:

It would be very interesting to re-read that interview. I’ve contacted the Register but do not think they have those long-ago articles online. If my original typed interview is in my vast files, at the moment I’m not sure where to look.

In the 1980s, as the Internet had not yet been born and the fax machine, though around for a while, was finally becoming an important tool for document transmission, the telex was regularly used by the media to transmit stories, in addition to the ever-improving facsimile machine.

In the years I worked for the Register (1979 to December 1985), I was a one-person office and worked from home or from my then small desk in the Holy See Press Office. My stories appeared weekly and I most often dictated them by phone, occasionally using the Vatican fax machine (we were billed, of course, for transmissions). Technology has developed so much and so fast that it seems like I was working in the Dark Ages when I wrote for the Register!

The Capucci story is out there (or in my files) somewhere and I am now very curious to find it.

News now surrounds us 24/7 in countless ways and on a wide variety of social and other media. There was lots of news at the Vatican over the holidays and I was able to keep up-with at least the headlines, if not the whole story, so I’ll devote time in coming days to reading papal talks, homilies, documents, etc.

I’ll be with Teresa Tomeo as usual tomorrow, Wednesday on “Catholic Connection and EWTN radio so we can share some of those developments with you then!

It’s great to be back! Thanks a million to all of you who sent Christmas wishes, either by email, FB messages or snail mail cards. I’d love to respond personally but please know you were in my thoughts and prayers over the holidays – prayers said with heartfelt gratitude for your friendship and for being such huge fans of my work!