This last-minute helper of Jesus during his Passion signifies a broader picture for believers

Image from Wikimedia Commons

In the Gospel reading during Holy Week, we were introduced to Simon of Cyrene who was compelled to assist Jesus with his Cross.

This North African, who probably was a dispersed Jew, aided our Lord at a time when he was weak and vulnerable yet he walked with Jesus along his sorrowful path.

Not much is known about this obscure person who performed an act of great charity toward our Lord. Yet, with what we have, we can make some powerful connections and profound interpretations about this great person.

Biblical Profile

What we know, pretty much comes from the chapters he is mentioned in (Matthew 27:32Luke 23:26Mark 15:21).

First, we know that he is from Cyrene, an ancient Greek colony located in modern-day Libya in Northern Africa.

Keep in mind that Jews existed outside of Judea across neighboring regions. Cyrene happened to be a thriving colony with an estimated 100,000 population.

As a result, we can conclude that Simon was in Jerusalem for Passover which means he probably was of Jewish background.

Lastly, we know that Simon was a family man because he had two children, Rufus and Alexander. St. Paul mentions Rufus in Romans 16:13, which is considered to be a reference to him.

Deeper Interpretation

If the Church is catholic (Gk., katholikos, “universal”), then it’s message resonates with all.

This remarkable act of being compelled to assist with Jesus’ cross is symbolic.

Just as Adam was the head of humanity in creation in the Fall and Jesus is the head of salvation through his atonement (Romans 5:18–19), Simon signifies African descendants that will come to Christ and enter the Catholic Church.

For a Catholic of African Descent, this act of holding up Christ symbolizes Simon of Cyrene as the head that represents all of Africa and the universal call of the descendants of the diaspora to unite with the Redeemer of the world.

Moreover, this act of carrying the weight of Christ reveals the true intimacy Africans have with the Church.

Despite popular belief, Christianity has always had a pivotal role in the continent.

From the Church’s inception, countless godly men and women have been pivotal players in shaping the Church.

It’s no surprise that many pioneering desert fathers, Saints, Doctors of the Church, and even now marvelous orthodox leaders hail from the continent.

Figures such as St. Anthony of the Desert, Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, St. Augustine, King Afonso of the Congo, and now Cardinal Francis Arinze have carried Jesus Christ along the ages.

A Pope’s Remarks

This interpretation would be consistent with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI during his trip to Africa in March 2009.

While visiting the Cardinal Paul Emile Leger Centre in Cameroon, Benedict stated

“Can it not be said that every African is in some sense a member of the family of Simon of Cyrene. Every African who suffers, indeed every person who suffers, helps Christ to carry His Cross and climbs with him the path to Golgotha in order one day to rise again with him.”

He concluded his remarks with a prayer, “I pray, dear brothers and sisters, that you will be able to recognize yourselves in Simon of Cyrene.”

Africa has been ravaged by centuries of colonialism, imperialism, political corruption, and natural disasters. The continent has surely seen it’s fair share of insufferable pain.

If any continent could fathom the torture of Jesus, Africa would definitely be it. Because she has endured the excruciating torment of abuse, she can walk alongside the Messiah during the Via Dolorosa, “Sorrowful Way.”

When keeping her brutal past in mind, it’s no wonder that Pope Benedict could utter such an uncanny resemblance.

Closing Thoughts

We could all learn from Simon. Here’s a man that was compelled to aid our Lord in his time of unimaginable mistreatment. Perhaps he never knew Jesus, but he would be completely changed by carrying Jesus’ cross.

St. Paul says that a true Christian is one that lives a crucified life,( Galatians 2:20).