Melbourne, Australia, Jan 25, 2020 / 03:49 am (CNA).- Committee leaders at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voiced prayers and sorrow at the deaths of three American crew members who were killed in an air tanker crash while trying to fight massive wildfires in New South Wales, Australia.

“We join in prayerful solidarity with their families and with all the people of Australia and all those in regions affected by these terrible fires,” said Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City and Bishop David Malloy of Rockford.

Archbishop Coakley chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, while Bishop Malloy heads the Committee on International Justice and Peace.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of those who are suffering from this tragedy and from the disaster these dedicated professionals were fighting,” they said in a Jan. 23 statement. “In our prayer, we recall in trust that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, offering Himself to us and calling us to Himself even in our hardest hour.”

Three U.S. military veterans had been on a water-bombing mission in New South Wales when their water tanker plane crashed Thursday afternoon. The cause of the crash is unknown.

All three crewmembers perished in the crash. They have been identified as Captain Ian McBeth, 44, First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson, 42, and year-old Flight Engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr., 43.

More than 80 bushfires continue to burn in Australia, where hot, windy conditions have thwarted firefighters’ efforts to extinguish the blazes, leading to the worst wildfire season in the country’s recorded history. More than 33 people have been killed and more than 24 million acres destroyed in the fires since September, according to the BBC.

The United States has sent more than 200 firefighters to help combat the bush fires in Australia, CNN reports.

The Australian bishops have called for prayers and financial support for those who have been affected by the fires.

“[T]he beginning of 2020 has already been marked with loss, destruction, separation and deep sadness; and it would seem there is more to come,” Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne said in a statement at the beginning of January.

He noted that the archdiocese is seeking to support those affected by the fires through its ministries, including CatholicCare, Catholic Education Melbourne and the St. Vincent de Paul Society. He particularly encouraged donations to the St. Vincent de Paul Bushfire Appeal, which is providing fire victims with food, clothing and other necessities, as well as helping cover unexpected bills and offering emotional support.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney echoed the call for donations to the appeal. In a Jan. 12 homily, he called for solidarity and hope as efforts to extinguish the fires continue.

“Through the inferno of these past weeks, the spirit of our people was not consumed. Rather, their hardiness and goodness were on display,” he said.

“If baptismal waters call us to higher ideals, they also purify us for living those ideals. Fire, too can test our mettle, even refine what is there,” he said. “As our nation passes through this baptism of fire, it can emerge stronger and greater than before.”

Earlier this month, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, offered solidarity and support in a message to the bishops of Australia.

“Please know we are praying for you and your people in these difficult days,” he said, assuring them of his prayers for those whose lives and livelihoods have been threatened by the fires, as well as the firefighters and first responders working to combat the flames.

Archbishop Coakley and Bishop Malloy voiced their unity with the bishops of Australia and encouraged Catholics to donate to recovery efforts in the country.

“We call upon the faithful to support, through their petitions and concern, the efforts at extinguishment and recovery taking place throughout in response to these fires,” they said.

“We pray for the safety and wellbeing of those affected and those fighting the fires, and hope for the eventual restoration of the homes and natural habitats that have been destroyed.”

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