In an audience Saturday the Pope met the pilgrims from the Diocese of Tarbes and Lourdes, accompanied by their bishop, Jacques Perrier.

He wished to thank that diocese for the "warm welcome" he received during his 104th international trip, which culminated with a Mass attended by more than 300,000 pilgrims.

"I remember with emotion my pilgrimage to the Massabielle grotto, which enabled me to recollect myself before Our Lady on this 150th anniversary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception," the Pope said told his guests.

On Feb. 11, 1858, four years after Pope Pius IX defined the dogma officially, the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous and introduced herself as "the Immaculate Conception."

"I thank all the people who contributed to my stay," John Paul II said. "My thoughts go to the sick and to all the volunteers of the shrines." He united himself "to all the pilgrims who come to commend their intentions to Mary, Mother of the Church and our Mother."