Saint Polycarp

23 February

To meet St. Polycarp we have to travel back in time to AD 69. It is a time referred to as the Apostolic Age of the Church. It was the time when after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Apostles started to travel to spread the Good News.

It is believed that it was about this time that St. Polycarp was born to a Christian family who had accepted the Faith from the Apostles themselves.
He was christened Pangratios not Polycarp! That came later.

He grew up fervent and staunch in the Faith. Tradition holds that he became a priest and a personal assistant to the Bishop of Smyrna. According to tradition, at one time, Smyrna and the surrounding countryside were suffering from such a severe drought that the people would not have survived much longer. Pangratios, together with his Bishop, led the community of Smyrna through a period of three days of prayer and fasting, praying for rain. Pangratios and a few others fasted for the three whole days. When the rains came and the land gave fruit, the people believed that God had answered the prayers and penance of Pangratios. From then on he became known as Polycarp meaning ‘many fruits’!

By the time he was 40 years old, Polycarp was appointed Bishop of Smyrna, (present day Izmir, Turkey). He became known for his kindness and generosity, avoiding conflicts, seeking peace-resolving attitudes even with other Christians when he travelled to Rome, in discussions over differences in the celebration of the Liturgy. He devoted most of his life defending the Faith. It is believed that he gained his strength in his beliefs having been a disciple of John the Apostle himself. His teachings were put down in a letter he allegedly wrote to the Phillipians, encouraging them to uphold their beliefs in the Christian Faith.  
At this time a group of people known as Gnostics, started to spread contrary views to the teachings that had been handed down by the Apostles. Polycarp refuted these Gnostic heresies with all his strength for most of his adult life.

By the year 155AD, persecution of Christians had also reached Smyrna. Polycarp was accused of spreading the Faith and he was hunted out to be arrested. His friends persuaded him to seek refuge in a farm outside Smyrna. However he was discovered and was taken to an amphitheater where he was put on a pyre to be burned because he refused to renounce his belief in the One True God. It is said that the fire did not consume him and he was killed by the sword. It was then that the fire burned his body to ashes.
He was 86 years old.

Even though Polycarp was facing martyrdom, he continued to insist “I am a Christian” that is “ I am a follower of Christ”

  • After relating the story of Polycarp, take the opportunity  to discuss with the children how we, as Christians, show that we are followers of Jesus Christ.
  • Do we wear a badge? Do we wear special gear? (football players wear different gears according to their team!) Listen to their views.
  • Lead them to discover that the Sign of the Cross is the sign of the Christian.
  • Talk about how we show that we are followers of Christ by ~ what we say ~ what we do ~  how we behave. Encourage them to give examples from their own experiences.
  • Praise them for their efforts, helping them to realize that it is not always easy to be a follower of Jesus Christ!

When the country was in need of rain, Polycarp and the Bishop resorted to prayer, firmly believing that God would answer their prayers.

  • Talk to children about Prayer: They might say that prayer means saying  a Hail Mary or the Prayer before meals.
  • Lead them to explore that the real meaning of prayer is : TALKING TO JESUS. About what?
  • Jesus always listens: Talk to Him, to SHARE with Him, when we are happy or sad, worried or anxious. We can ASK Him for what we need, THANK Him for happy moments, PRAISE Him for how wonderful He is, ask for FORGIVENESS when we feel we have hurt Him and others or when we have not done the right thing.

For Family Prayer Time

  • Give special importance to making and praying the Sign of the Cross, especially with the little ones. Pope Francis has asked all Catholics to give great importance to how we make the Sign of the Cross in a more meaningful way!
  • Follow with a moment of silence, prompting the children to TALK to Jesus.
  • Jesus Himself showed us how to pray. Read the anecdote from the Gospel of Matthew 6, 9-13.
  • Sing together the Our Father! Watch and sing : 

Our Father Lords Prayer 3  

How to use this space

God speaks to us in many ways, including through the Saints of the Church. Here you will find useful background and activities to better understand the holy life, helping you to connect the saints to daily life in a meaningful way.