Cyrene was located in northern Africa in eastern Libya. A Greek city in the province of Cyrenaica, it had a Jewish community where 100,000 Judean Jews had been forced to settle during the reign of Ptolemy Soter (323–285 BC) and was an early center of Christianity.
The Cyrenian Jews had a synagogue in Jerusalem, where many went for annual feasts.
Simon’s act of carrying the cross, patibulum, for Jesus is the fifth or seventh of the Stations of the Cross. Some interpret the passage as indicating that Simon was chosen because he may have shown sympathy with Jesus. Others point out that the text itself says nothing, that he had no choice, and that there is no basis to consider the carrying of the cross an act of sympathetic generosity.
Mark 15:21 identifies Simon as “the father of Alexander and Rufus”. Tradition states that they became missionaries; the inclusion of their names may suggest that they were of some standing in the Early Christian community at Rome. It has also been suggested that the Rufus (in Greek: Ῥοῦφον or Rhouphon) mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:13 is the son of Simon of Cyrene.Some also link Simon himself with the “men of Cyrene” who preached the Gospel to the Greeks in Acts 11:20. On the other hand, Simon’s name alone does not prove he was Jewish, and Alexander and Rufus were both common names and may have referred to others.
A burial cave in the Kidron Valley discovered in 1941 by E. L. Sukenik, belonging to Cyrenian Jews and dating before AD 70, was found to have an ossuary inscribed twice in Greek “Alexander son of Simon.” It cannot, however, be certain that this refers to the same person.
Cyrene was supposedly the destination of many “Sicari” (lit. dagger men) who fled the Roman legions at the time of the Jewish Revolt. This was later to precipitate further Jewish insurrection in the area in the reign of Hadrian and Trajan.
Prayer to St. Simon
Heavenly Father, whose most dear Son, as he walked the Way of the Cross, accepted the service of Simon of Cyrene to carry his physical burden for him: grant us each the grace gladly to bear one another’s burdens, for the love of him who said, “As you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me,” your son Jesus Christ our Lord, who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.