During the age of payphones, phreakers would use devices known as blue boxes to “hack” telecommunication systems and make – amongst other things – long distance calls to any person, for free.
In the 80s, two of the most prolific phreakers were none other than founders of Apple: Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.
As Wozniak puts it, “for reasons he can’t quite recall he got it in his head one day that they should try calling the pope.” Steve Jobs said “We got the number of the Vatican and called the pope.”
Using his blue box, Wozniak was able to route his call to the Vatican, and decided to prank call the pope, at the time Pope Saint John Paul II.
“In this heavy accent I announced that I was Henry Kissinger calling on behalf of President Nixon. I said, ‘Ve are at de summit meeting in Moscow, and we need to talk to de pope.'”
The secretary that answered replied that JPII was sleeping and to call back in an hour after they had sent someone to wake him.
An hour later, Wozniak called back and was told the pope was ready and he was going to be speaking with a bishop who would act as a translator between the two.
“Well, an hour later I called back and she said, ‘Okay, we will put the bishop on, who will be the translator.’ So I told him, still in that heavy accent, ‘Dees is Mr. Kissinger.’ And he said, ‘Listen, I just spoke to Mr. Kissinger an hour ago.’ You see, they had checked out my story and had called the real Kissinger in Moscow.”
Steve Jobs also recounted the tale of the time he and Wozniak prank called the pope.
“They actually sent someone to wake up the pope. When finally, we just burst out laughing, and they realized that we weren’t Henry Kissinger. So, we never got to talk to the pope. But it was very funny.”