Heard the one about the Pope and the Rabbi? It's no joke!

Rabbi Bob Alper is the Pope's new comedy adviserTwitter @thatfunnyrabbi

As the controversial Synod on the Family enters its second week with the 279 bishops and cardinals deeply divided on issues such as marriage, divorce, homosexuality and birth control, some conservative Catholics seem to be suggesting Pope Francis is little more than a joke. Others are looking for humour to lighten the mood.

Now it appears they won't have to look much further, as during his recent trip to the US, Pope Francis managed to secure for himself the first ever official comedy adviser to a Pope. And it's a rabbi.

More than 4,000 people from 47 nations entered a competition to be chosen as Honorary Comedic Advisor to the Pope where men and women had to send in their favourite jokes.

As New York's The Jewish Week reported, A rabbi from Vermont won.

Rabbi Bob Alper, aged 70, who is also a stand-up comic was informed by the American branch of the Pontifical Missions Societies that he was the victor.

He immediately tweeted:

 He said he "was kind of shocked and delighted." His performances for the past 27 years have also featured Muslims and Christians.

His winning joke was also his most recent: "I've been married for 46 years, and my wife and I are on the same wavelength. At the same time that I got a hearing aid, she stopped mumbling."

He told Jewish Week: "The joke is one of the best I've ever written. It's reality. It's something with which people can identify. It exemplifies the Pope's values, which are family, humour, warmth."

Father Andrew Small, national director of Pontifical Mission Societies, and originally from Liverpool in the UK, said he thought up the competition as a means of spreading joy and promoting a new church missionary app, Missio. 

He said the idea of the competition initially came to him in a dream. The contest's website features three church missions – in Ethiopia, Argentina and Kenya.

"I have [humour] in my cultural DNA," he said, adding that the Pope had sent him a letter backing the competition. Pope Francis wrote in Spanish: "I like to laugh – a lot. It helps me to feel closer to God and closer to other people in my life. I invite you to share your happiness, your joy and your laughter with one another and with the whole world. Share your jokes and your funny stories: the world will be better, the Pope will be happy and God will be the happiest of all."

Rabbi Alper told PBS Newshour that his name used to be spelled with a T. "It used to be Alpert, but we dropped the T at a party in Boston."

He said that after fourteen years serving two different congregations, he became a full-time comic. "I would always use jokes and funny stories in my sermons in front of my congregation, which would give me over forty-two years of experience performing in front of a hostile audience," he said, using a line from his comedy routine.

He believes the power of laughter brings people closer and enhances the religious experience. "If one sees another as being funny, right under funny is affable and open, and that's what the Pope does. That's his calling card, his humor, his smile, his warmth, and that's characterised my career as a rabbi as well," he told PBS.

The unofficial title carries no guarantee of a meeting with the Pope. Rabbi Alper also received $10,000 to donate to one of three charities. He chose House the Homeless in Ethiopia. He was also given two tickets to see the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon for which he now hopes to audition and perform one day.