EUREKA, MO—Pope Benedict XVI returned to Rome today following a historic, three-day trip to Six Flags St. Louis, the first official papal visit to a major American theme park since Pope Paul VI's Thanksgiving Mass at Wet 'n Wild in August 1966.
As the park opened its doors to the general public last Friday, the pope emerged from the last car of the Foghorn Leghorn National Park Railway to greet the throngs of people who had assembled hours earlier for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to pay their respects to the blessed pontiff and to vie for a seat on Superman Tower of Power, a popular free-fall ride.
The pope began his visit with a brief sermon delivered from the balcony of the Old Glory Amphitheatre, and blessed the park's many concession-stand workers who "provide sustenance for our brethren seeking to beat the heat."
"My friends in Christ, as we stand together today among this unusually large weekday crowd, I urge you and your children to exercise the twin virtues of faith and patience, for unto those who wait will come great rewards and monstrous thrills," the pontiff told those in line for the Screamin' Eagle roller coaster.
The pope was honored in a special ceremony outside the Warner Bros. Backlot, in which he was presented with a complimentary season pass, good for free entry at any Six Flags or Hurricane Harbor until August 31.
"I am pleased to announce to His Holiness, the Vicar of Christ, Pope Benedict XVI, that from this day forward, June 9 will forever be known as Pope Day at Six Flags St. Louis," said Shazam! ride-operator Gary Moynihan as he lowered the safety bar over the pope's lap and locked it into place. "Now, prepare to be scrambled!"
The pope took an aerial tour via Sky Tram to Goodtimes Square later on Friday, where he was greeted by Six Flags dignitaries Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, and the Tasmanian Devil. The trio of characters went on to sign an apostolic exhortation on the role of bishops, a Vatican concordat with Six Flags St. Louis, and the pope's personal autograph book.
The pontiff also posed for an official portrait by celebrated Six Flags caricature artist Trevor Doogan. The work depicted Benedict in his robes, mitre, and Rollerblades. The pope also celebrated a special midday Mass, in which the capacity-plus crowds received communion and cotton candy.
Early Saturday morning, Benedict delivered a children's prayer in Looney Tunes Town, in which he urged "courage, resolve, and strength of stomach when you come face to face with the temptation of XCalibur," and stressed that they should all "honor thy mother and father, who paid the ultimate price for your $45 day pass."
"If you are a child over 54 inches tall, your covenant with fun compels you to check out Batman the Ride," the pope added.
On the third day of the papal visit, bystanders witnessed what some called a minor miracle when Benedict reunited a lost four-year-old boy with his parents. "Today, a young wayward sheep has strayed from his flock, "the pope announced over the park's P.A. system. "But by the grace of God, he has been found safe and unharmed, and can be picked up at Porky's Pavilion."
According to Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls, Benedict accomplished everything he set out to do during the three days, with the exception of a much-anticipated visit to Colossus, the 18-story Ferris wheel, which the Holy Father canceled at the last moment for unspecified reasons.
"This is truly a special part of the world, and my time at Six Flags brought me closer to God—particularly when I was suspended in midair at the peak of Mr. Freeze," said the pope, his hair tousled, his face and the back of his neck severely sunburned, and his long, flowing robes soaked with water from the Big Kahuna raft ride. "But there is still much more to be done, and I have a feeling that God will call me here again very soon."