John Thavis arrived in Italy in the 1970s as an archaeology and classics student. Times were turbulent. “They had kidnapped the Italian prime minister the day after I arrived in Rome, so I walked into the English-language newspaper and got a job,” he said. A new life and career began that day.
Thavis, who has covered the Vatican full time since 1982, said it’s a tough beat to crack: “It requires a lot of effort, years of developing sources, and learning the language, learning the theological language as well as the Italian language.” He’s put that intimate knowledge to literary use, publishing “The Vatican Diaries” (a “warts and all kind of story,” he said) in 2013.
This month comes “The Vatican Prophecies: Investigating Supernatural Signs, Apparitions and Miracles in the Modern Age,” a book in which Thavis hoped to explore the sometimes uneasy fact of “the church of miracles coexisting with the church of reason.” It’s an area of “mixed messages,” Thavis said. “The Vatican in many ways seems conflicted about the supernatural.” And although some miracles are routinely approved “for sainthood causes,” there are also “people proclaiming prophetic visions that are virtually kept under wraps.”
Some miracles are difficult for Thavis to dispute. “There are healings there that even for me, a journalist who’s trained to be skeptical, are pretty impressive,” he said. At the same time, he added, “the Vatican’s own idea of miracles is changing. There’s much more emphasis now on the idea that miracles happen more often than we think, and most of them are inner conversions, they take place in people’s hearts.”
It’s a philosophy held by Pope Francis, Thavis said, adding that Francis, who visits the United States this month, is “a breath of fresh air for the church; I think he’s just what the church needed.”
Thavis will read at 7 p.m. Thursday at Harvard Book Store in Cambridge.