Philip Webb’s Camino Pilgrimage Raises $2,000 for Mission Tradition
U.S. Marine veteran Philip Webb is no longer on active duty, but his missions continue. Nowadays, the retired machinist devotes much of his spare time to helping Mission Tradition raise much-needed funds for its apostolates in Nigeria, Mexico, and Colombia.
Webb’s latest effort was a pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago—the Way of St. James—in Spain. He began his trek on October 3 and finished on November 4, days ahead of his self-imposed deadline of November 10. Along the way, Webb posted updates to his Facebook page and encouraged his friends and supporters to donate to Mission Tradition in honor of his pilgrimage.
Webb raised more than $2,000 and gave 100 percent of the proceeds to Mission Tradition because he covered his own expenses. He returned from his second pilgrimage full of gratitude.
“I’m thankful to everyone who supported this fundraiser and kept me in their prayers,” he remarked. “Please remember that even though my days on the trail were long, our Mission Tradition priests work even harder each day to meet the needs of the world’s poorest people. They rely on your support to make their apostolates a success.”
Beautiful Scenery Makes a Long Trek Easier
Webb’s pilgrimage began with a 17-hour bus trip that took him from his home in southwestern Spain to the town of Irún in the northeast. There, near the French border, the Camino del Norté begins.
Camino del Norté is one of the longest and most rigorous routes on the Way of St. James. On a damp, overcast morning, Web set off at the Santiago Bridge over the Bidasoa River. That first day, he walked about 18 kilometers (11 miles) before stopping at an enchanting albergue in Pasai Donibane. An albergue is a hostel designed to accommodate pilgrims for a nominal fee. These no-frills lodges are a godsend to the many pilgrims who seek to complete their journeys on a budget. More well-heeled pilgrims sometimes stay at hotels in the towns they visit.
Webb’s first stop put him among breathtaking mountains near a river. But throughout his journey, it was the agriculture he enjoyed seeing most. Webb grew up in Michigan and helped on his grandparents’ farm. He later worked on a neighbor’s farm that had the second-most heads of cattle in Michigan at the time. Walking past many small family farms brought back pleasant memories for Webb.
“I saw many different kinds of crops, including winter squash that was two or three times bigger than anything I ever saw in Michigan,” he remarked. “There’s a tremendous amount of rain in northern Spain and it’s really warm in the summer, which clearly helps these crops grow.”
On his stops, Webb visited northern Spain’s beautiful churches whenever he could, enjoying the traditional architecture and statuary. For example, the Santiago Cathedral in Bilbao featured Gothic architecture and many masterpiece paintings. Although the cathedral was only open for Mass, Webb arrived just as the midday Mass was concluding and the priest allowed him to look around for a few minutes.
Webb also enjoyed the smaller church of San Salvador in Getaria, which featured one of the area’s oldest sanctuaries dating back to the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries. This church was built on the remains of at least two earlier churches dating back to 1397.
“In many of these churches and cathedrals, the bishops and cardinals are buried in crypts in the walls,”Webb noted. “When you stop to pray there, you really feel the communion of saints! It’s almost overwhelming to feel that connection to the past.”
But Webb’s Camino schedule left little time for sightseeing. Although some pilgrims set aside several months to finish their journeys, Webb had a family to get back to. Church visits tended to be 30 minutes or less unless Webb was attending Sunday Mass. Webb’s daily mileage ranged from 12 to 35, but he typically aimed for 18 to 20 miles per day.
Heavy Rain and Scarce Lodging Test Pilgrims’ Mettle
Camino del Norté presented Webb with many challenges. Because he made his pilgrimage near the end of the season, he knew he would run into rain. Although his first two weeks brought warm, sunny weather, he faced steady rainfall over the last two weeks. By the time October ended, northern Spain had experienced twice its normal rainfall for the month. Through the wetness—and even a fierce hailstorm—Webb relied on his rain jacket and Marine Corps poncho.
Webb also had difficulty finding lodging on many nights. During the first two weeks of the journey, the trail was full of tourists who often snapped up the available beds at the albergues. And because it was near the end of the pilgrimage season, some albergues had unexpectedly closed early. These situations left Webb little option but to hike from town to town and trust in Divine Providence.
But as Webb walked on, the crowd on the trail thinned out to include only the most dedicated pilgrims. On November 1, the Feast of All Saints, he took a “break” day in which he walked just seven kilometers (4.3 miles) on level terrain and then explored the charming city of Mondoñedo. There, he visited the Cathedral of Santa Maria—a stunning building erected between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries—and enjoyed a hearty dinner of chiperonies (squid) accompanied by a glass of Albariño wine.
Pilgrims Inspire Each Other to Persevere
Just as he had done on his first Camino in 2022, Webb met many interesting and inspiring Catholics on the trail. One walking companion was a 29-year-old professional soccer player who was taking time for reflection between contracts. Another was a Lithuanian graphic designer who lives all over the world because she works entirely online. A pair of retired accountants from the United Kingdom provided Webb with constant comic relief.
But Webb’s most meaningful connection was with “Sandra,” a German doctor of pharmacy. She, too, was completing her second Camino—but with a special challenge: type 1 diabetes. Throughout the journey, she gave herself at least 10 insulin injections per day and sometimes stopped to consume sugar to keep her blood glucose levels in balance.
“Sometimes Caminos are about facing one’s own difficulties,” Webb reflected. “Other times they teach us to admire the courage we see in others, showing us that our troubles may be smaller than we think. I was incredibly proud to have shared some days on the Camino with Sandra and am delighted to call this inspiring woman a new friend!”
Sandra tracked her blood glucose levels with an app that clearly displayed her “peaks” and “valleys.” At one point on the trail, Webb happened to see the graph. Thinking it was a trail app, he said, “Hey, I thought we were finished with the mountains. Why is your app showing another incline?” He was relieved when Sandra reassured him that the graph simply represented a spike in her blood glucose level.
Every Mile Is an Offering to God
Many pilgrims envision fitting in hours of prayer on the Camino. For Webb, that proved more difficult this year than last year because the Camino del Norté was busier than the Via de la Plata. But as the crowd thinned out, the opportunities for quiet reflection became more common. And whenever Webb stopped in a town with an open church, he fit in a Rosary before returning to the trail.
As the weeks of walking wore on, Webb found the trail changing him. The soreness of Week 1 gave way to the fatigue of Week 2. But by Week 3, Webb remarked, “The pilgrimage becomes who you are. You wake up in the morning and you’re not really thinking about how you’re doing—you’re just focused on today’s plan and backup plan. There’s nothing you can do about yesterday. There’s nothing you can do about what might be going on back home. Your life becomes simple and you live in the moment.”
Webb advises other potential pilgrims to be realistic about what a Camino journey can do for them.
“Don’t go to the Camino looking for that one answer to the biggest problem in your life—and certainly don’t go looking for romance! The Camino has a way of providing you with what you need, which may not be what you want. There’s almost always a place to stay, even if it wasn’t your first choice. You come to realize how little you really need to get by.”
As he walked, Webb’s thought returned constantly to the work our Mission Tradition priests are doing to bring the light of Christ to the world’s neediest people. He is grateful for your support and is continuing his fundraiser for anyone who may be inspired to send a gift to Mission Tradition.