VATICAN CITY—Speaking to reporters for the final time as head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI vowed Wednesday that he would continue drawing his popular syndicated comic strip Papalpuss after he steps down from office.

The long-running daily comic, which Benedict reportedly brainstorms, sketches, and inks every afternoon, follows the misadventures of the duck-billed platypus Pope Papalpuss, his wisecracking sidekick Cardinal Songbird, and his grouchy, omnipotent boss God. Since its creation in 1964, the four-panel strip has appeared in more than 1,500 newspapers worldwide, delighting generations of fans with its signature lighthearted humor and endearingly down-on-his-luck central character.

“I love Papalpuss, and even after all these years, I still think there’s so much more I can do with it,” said the pontiff, seated in his Apostolic Palace drawing studio surrounded by framed Papalpuss prints, posters, and stuffed Papalpuss plush toys. “Even though I’m stepping down from the Church, I want to assure fans that Papalpuss will continue to bungle and fret over all of life’s little twists and turns each and every day just like always, whether it’s worrying if he’s penitent enough, mishearing a confession, or spilling holy water all over his vestments.”

“And maybe now that I’m retiring as pope, I can give Papalpuss more of a life outside the Holy Moly See, too,” Benedict continued. “It could be fun for him to finally try performing a miracle of his own or maybe go golfing with his buddy Holy Ghost. The possibilities are endless.”

The Supreme Pontiff acknowledged that his iconic comic strip had grown into a widely successful and lucrative international franchise over the years, having spawned dozens of bestselling anthologies, as well as the animated Papalpuss and Friends children’s show during the early 1980s, on which the then Archbishop of Munich and Freising Joseph Ratzinger served as executive producer. Additionally, Papalpuss has appeared in a profitable line of Hallmark greeting cards, in popular Christmas and Easter television specials, as a fast-food children’s meal toy tie-in, and adorning a Papalpuss-themed rollercoaster at multiple Busch Gardens locations.

Pope Benedict XVI, however, has reportedly encountered his share of failures with the brand as well, most notably in 2003, when the motion picture Papalpuss: Uncloistered, which featured a CGI version of the platypus pontiff voiced by Ray Romano, proved to be a commercial and critical flop.

In spite of the franchise’s global presence and ample licensing opportunities, the 85-year-old cartoonist and Vicar of Christ acknowledged that he still draws the comic for the pure joy of it, saying that penning the daily strip continues to be a delight even after half a century.

“I can’t think of anything more rewarding than drawing Papalpuss each day,” said the pope, gesturing toward the thousands of fan letters that have been sent to him over the years. “I just feel so blessed to have been able to do something I love for so long, and which, in some small way, actually makes people’s lives a little better and provides a positive contribution to the world.”

“And both Papalpuss and I look forward to bringing many more smiles to kids of all ages for years to come,” Benedict added.