There is only one individual in the history of the world who literally helped Jesus carry his cross. He is mentioned by name as Simon of Cyrene and very little is known about him, or what happened after the crucifixion of Jesus.
The Gospels mention only a few details about this mysterious man.
As they were going out, they met a Cyrenian named Simon; this man they pressed into service to carry his cross.Matthew 27:32
They pressed into service a passer-by, Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.Mark 15:21
Essentially we know that Simon was from Cyrene, a region in Northern Africa that became a Roman colony and had a sizable population of Jewish people.
The text itself appears to say that Simon was forced to carry Jesus’ cross, meaning that he did not willfully want to be associated with this “criminal.”
Anne Catherine Emmerich, a mystic from the 19th century, claims in her “Dolorous Passion” that Simon was a pagan.
At this moment Simon of Cyrene, a pagan, happened, to pass by, accompanied by his three children. He was a gardener, just returning home after working in a garden near the eastern wall of the city, and carrying a bundle of lopped branches. The soldiers perceiving by his dress that he was a pagan, seized him, and ordered him to assist Jesus in carrying his cross. He refused at first, but was soon compelled to obey, although his children, being frightened, cried and made a great noise, upon which some women quieted and took charge of them. Simon was much annoyed, and expressed the greatest vexation at being obliged to walk with a man in so deplorable a condition of dirt and misery …
Furthermore, Emmerich also claims that the experience changed Simon’s sons, who later became Christians.
His children were dressed in tunics made of a variegated material. The two eldest, named Rufus and Alexander, afterwards joined the disciples; the third was much younger, but a few years later went to live with St. Stephen. Simon had not carried the cross after Jesus any length of time before he felt his heart deeply touched by grace.
Some biblical historians believe Alexander and Rufus were possibly well-known in the early Christian community, which is why they are mentioned by name in the Gospel.
For example, St. Paul mentions a “Rufus” in his letter to the Romans, “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine” (Romans 16:13).
What happened to Simon?
It is unknown what happened to Simon, who literally carried Jesus’ cross. He is not widely venerated as a saint, though it is hard to believe that being so close to Jesus would not have changed him. Some traditions celebrate him as St. Simon of Cyrene, with a feast day on December 1.
Whatever his fate, we can try to accept our cross willingly from God and let Jesus’ suffering transform our own lives.