Have you heard the one about the priest and rabbi who took a tour bus full of folks to meet the Pope?
That's not the set-up for a joke, but the description of one of the scheduled stops of an upcoming interfaith spiritual and cultural trip to Italy and Israel led by Winnipeggers Rev. Sam Argenziano and Rabbi Neal Rose.
"In some sense, what we're going to do is open up the Bible," explains Rose, a retired University of Manitoba religion professor, of the Jan. 8 to 23, 2012, trip organized by Flair Travel.
The 16-day tour begins in Rome, where participants will visit synagogues, the Jewish ghetto, the Vatican and a papal audience over three days. Although Rome is well-known for its strong ties to Catholicism, it also has a longtime Jewish presence, says Rose.
"Rome was once the centre of Jewish life. Italy has always been a significant part of Jewish life."
After Rome, the tour group will fly to Israel for a variety of stops, including Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Mount Carmel, Golan Heights, Masada and Jerusalem.
A combination of sightseeing, history lessons and visiting sacred places, the tour is designed to build understanding of the common history and faith of Jews and Christians, says Argenziano, the priest at Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church, which serves Winnipeg's Italian Catholic community.
"For me, we're going to look at the foundations of Christianity. Who were these first-century Christians?" says Argenziano.
"We're in synagogue life, we're in temple life (during the first century). This is helping Christians understand where we have come from."
Whatever their faith tradition, Rose suggests all tour members pack a copy of the Bible to connect their experiences in Italy and Israel with the stories and places in the Scriptures.
"Some of the things I'd like to do are to refer people back to the Torah and the Christian (New) Testament."
An important aspect of an interfaith trip is recognizing that not all the stops hold the same meaning for everyone, says Rose. While Christians in the group may see the Via Dolorosa, or the Way of the Cross, as significant to their faith, Jews would have an entirely different perspective.
"I'm going to have to point out to people for a Jewish person to walk the stations of the cross is not to walk the stations of the cross, but to walk to the market," Rose says of the path Jesus Christ took on the way to his crucifixion.
"What's a sacred spot for one (faith) is not a sacred spot to another."
Over the two-week trip, tour members will worship in several settings, including an audience with the Pope in Rome and a Sabbath service in Jerusalem. Rose hopes those experiences will provoke questions and spark lively conversations.
"I think the most interesting discussion will take place when we go place to place," says Rose, who spent several sabbaticals living in Israel.
"That will be the richest part of the trip, the talking over meals, talking on the bus."
After all, the priest and the rabbi have already shared a lot of talk. Both native New Yorkers, Rose and Argenziano met decades ago in Winnipeg after mutual friends told them about each other and urged them to connect.
"People said we looked alike, people said we sounded alike and we both come from New York," recalls the Brooklyn-born Rose, 72, who now runs his family therapy practice out of a spare office in Argenziano's Osborne Village church.
"My parents encouraged us to be respectful of different faiths," adds Argenziano, 64, of his childhood years in Staten Island.
"To me, this (interfaith tour) isn't an outside of the box thing. This is how it should be."
For this rabbi and priest, their friendship is also how it should be. After years of connecting at interfaith events, presenting joint workshops or just rubbing shoulders at the office, they have a deep appreciation for each other's traditions.
"We hope people will get a sense of how we relate to each other," says Rose.
"No one is trying to convert anyone. Nobody is trying to prove one is superior. What we share is a deep appreciation for the commonality between us and we also appreciate the differences."
And about those jokes that start with a priest and a rabbi? The real-life priest and rabbi aren't above a little kidding themselves and invite tour participants to give them their best shot.
"I told people (that) on the trip we would give people a prize for the best joke," says Rose.