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Cardinal Cupich: God 'schemes' for our salvation

Washington D.C., Jan 25, 2020 / 10:01 pm (CNA).- God is a “tricky God” who schemes for the good of humanity and salvation, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago said in the homily at the Welcome Mass for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, DC. 

“How many times in the scripture have we seen, either telling stories or having encounters with people, who all of a sudden are tricked into salvation,” said Cupich. 

“We think of the woman at the well - all of a sudden she's talking about all sorts of things and then (Jesus) asks her that question: bring me your husband. And then she ends up evangelizing the entire community even though she's the one who is shunned by God.” 

Cupich cited the Caravaggio painting “The Calling of St. Matthew,” which depicts Matthew “cornered” by Christ.

“Jesus is at the doorway. There’s no exit for Matthew,” said Cupich.

The cardinal explained that these “tricks” extend past scripture, and are present in everyday life. 

“How many times in our life have we found ourselves tricked by God?” asked Cupich. These “tricks” include “putting us in situations where, all of a sudden, there was a grace that came from us that we otherwise would have not had.”

These tricks, explained the cardinal, help people to realize they must rely on God, and trust in God and His plan. 

“And yet in our lives so often our spiritual relationship with God, we have this little idea in our mind that we've got to be the one to save ourselves, that we have to do something to earn salvation,” he said. 

Cupich spoke at length about how people today seem more concerned with “image” over anything else. This is misguided, he said, as the “image” of something does not necessarily mean it is the reality. 

“We're in a moment of crisis and the life of the Church, where the brand name of the Catholic Church has been seriously damaged because of bad decisions, and so we might think we need a PR firm to get our image back,” said Cupich. 

“You have to be careful with that though, because the Lord is the one who saved us, but not our image.” 

Cardinal Cupich shared a humorous anecdote from when he was consecrated a bishop in 1998. His young niece took several of the prayer cards with his picture on it and brought it to show and tell at her preschool, where her classmates guessed he was a “ninja warrior.”

“How foolish would it be for me to get into that image of keeping up a reputation as a ninja warrior?” asked Cupich, to laughter. 

“I think of that, because it is foolish as well for us to try to keep up an image that we think (will) please other people,” he said. 

Other people choose to make their image a “central preoccupation” of their lives, he said, but the Christian should not. 

“It is a good test of whether or not we're open to this God who wants us to trust Him,” said Cupich. “A God who in fact schemes to the point of trickiness so that we trust Him.”

Earlier in the day, Cupich delivered the opening keynote address, titled “Our Call to Holiness: Life and Justice for All,” to the meeting. In the address, Cupich said that Christians should look to the actions of Christ as the inspiration for their lives. 

“Our Christian call to holiness is not about being called as individuals, but an invitation from God in which he brings people together, and invites believers to a deeper level of human intercommunion and a shared life,” Cupich said during his keynote.  

The cardinal reflected on his experience seeing an exhibit of Andy Warhol’s paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, including one that included an image of the Last Supper superimposed with camouflage. A piece of the camouflage exposed the image of Christ, which Cupich said “forc(ed) the viewer to look for the otherwise familiar image of the Lord at table.”

“May the light of the Gospel help us see through whatever camouflages the needy from our sight, whatever impedes us from being evangelized from those on the margins,” he said. 

“For it is in encountering the poor and the marginalized that we are mutually enriched, that we respond to the call to holiness as we take up the social ministry of the Church - because we know that whatever we do for the least of our sisters and brothers, we do for Christ.”

Cardinal Cupich: God 'schemes' for our salvation

Washington D.C., Jan 25, 2020 / 10:01 pm (CNA).- God is a “tricky God” who schemes for the good of humanity and salvation, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago said in the homily at the Welcome Mass for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, DC. 

“How many times in the scripture have we seen, either telling stories or having encounters with people, who all of a sudden are tricked into salvation,” said Cupich. 

“We think of the woman at the well - all of a sudden she's talking about all sorts of things and then (Jesus) asks her that question: bring me your husband. And then she ends up evangelizing the entire community even though she's the one who is shunned by God.” 

Cupich cited the Caravaggio painting “The Calling of St. Matthew,” which depicts Matthew “cornered” by Christ.

“Jesus is at the doorway. There’s no exit for Matthew,” said Cupich.

The cardinal explained that these “tricks” extend past scripture, and are present in everyday life. 

“How many times in our life have we found ourselves tricked by God?” asked Cupich. These “tricks” include “putting us in situations where, all of a sudden, there was a grace that came from us that we otherwise would have not had.”

These tricks, explained the cardinal, help people to realize they must rely on God, and trust in God and His plan. 

“And yet in our lives so often our spiritual relationship with God, we have this little idea in our mind that we've got to be the one to save ourselves, that we have to do something to earn salvation,” he said. 

Cupich spoke at length about how people today seem more concerned with “image” over anything else. This is misguided, he said, as the “image” of something does not necessarily mean it is the reality. 

“We're in a moment of crisis and the life of the Church, where the brand name of the Catholic Church has been seriously damaged because of bad decisions, and so we might think we need a PR firm to get our image back,” said Cupich. 

“You have to be careful with that though, because the Lord is the one who saved us, but not our image.” 

Cardinal Cupich shared a humorous anecdote from when he was consecrated a bishop in 1998. His young niece took several of the prayer cards with his picture on it and brought it to show and tell at her preschool, where her classmates guessed he was a “ninja warrior.”

“How foolish would it be for me to get into that image of keeping up a reputation as a ninja warrior?” asked Cupich, to laughter. 

“I think of that, because it is foolish as well for us to try to keep up an image that we think (will) please other people,” he said. 

Other people choose to make their image a “central preoccupation” of their lives, he said, but the Christian should not. 

“It is a good test of whether or not we're open to this God who wants us to trust Him,” said Cupich. “A God who in fact schemes to the point of trickiness so that we trust Him.”

Earlier in the day, Cupich delivered the opening keynote address, titled “Our Call to Holiness: Life and Justice for All,” to the meeting. In the address, Cupich said that Christians should look to the actions of Christ as the inspiration for their lives. 

“Our Christian call to holiness is not about being called as individuals, but an invitation from God in which he brings people together, and invites believers to a deeper level of human intercommunion and a shared life,” Cupich said during his keynote.  

The cardinal reflected on his experience seeing an exhibit of Andy Warhol’s paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, including one that included an image of the Last Supper superimposed with camouflage. A piece of the camouflage exposed the image of Christ, which Cupich said “forc(ed) the viewer to look for the otherwise familiar image of the Lord at table.”

“May the light of the Gospel help us see through whatever camouflages the needy from our sight, whatever impedes us from being evangelized from those on the margins,” he said. 

“For it is in encountering the poor and the marginalized that we are mutually enriched, that we respond to the call to holiness as we take up the social ministry of the Church - because we know that whatever we do for the least of our sisters and brothers, we do for Christ.”

French Senate passes controversial IVF bill

Paris, France, Jan 25, 2020 / 04:43 pm (CNA).- The French Senate this week passed a bill that would allow access to in-vitro fertilization (IVF) for single women and lesbian couples.

The bill passed 160-116 on Wednesday and is part of a larger bioethics law which cleared its first reading in the French National Assembly late last year.

The Senate voted against part of the bill that would have funded IVF through French social security. The National Assembly had approved that provision of the legislation.

Under the current law, IVF is only available to heterosexual couples who are unable to conceive or who may risk passing on a medical condition or sexually transmitted disease.

The new bill has been applauded by LGBT advocates.

“What was recognized to heterosexual couples must be recognized for homosexual couples,” said Socialist Party Senator David Assouline, according to Reuters.

When the bill passed the National Assembly in October, crowds of more than 40,000 people marched in a peaceful demonstration opposing the legislation.

The French Catholic bishops have staunchly opposed the bioethics bill since it was introduced six months ago. The Bishops’ Conference of France has compiled statements from 71 bishops on the subject.

The conference also issued a statement earlier in January titled “No one should treat another as an object.” The statement raises concerns that the bill prioritizes parents’ desire over the good of the child and paves the way for eugenics through preimplantation diagnosis and embryo selection.

“Not only is wanting a child without any genetic variant an illusion, but it would also dehumanize our humanity,” the statement from the bishops’ conference reads.

Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris, who practiced medicine and taught bioethics at a medical school prior to the priesthood, said the bill has potentially harmful consequences for the vulnerable.

“A child is a gift to be received, not an order to be manufactured. The absence of a father is an injury that can be suffered, but it is monstrous to inflict it on purpose,” said Aupetit in a Jan. 15 statement.

“For years, we have been committing ourselves ever further to a commercial drift of wealthy countries which afford the luxury of organizing a eugenic trade with the systematic elimination of the most fragile, the creation of transgenic embryos and chimeras,” he added.

 

1 killed after car crashes into bus of Covington Catholic students heading home from March for Life

Lexington, Ky., Jan 25, 2020 / 11:27 am (CNA).- One person is dead and others are injured after an oncoming car struck a charter bus carrying Covington Catholic students and chaperones back from the national March for Life in Washington, D.C., local sources have reported.

According to witnesses speaking to WLWT in Kentucky, the car had been traveling in the southbound lane of AA Highway in the city of California, Kentucky, when it crossed the median into the northbound lane and hit the bus head-on.

"I saw a car come across the median and head toward me," Ricky Lynn, a witness driving north on the highway, told WLWT. "I was able to get out of the way."

The car's driver, whose name has not been released, was pronounced dead at the scene. Witnesses told WLWT that a priest on the bus gave the driver of the car a final blessing.

According to officials, four other people were sent to the hospital with minor injuries, WCPO in Cincinnati reported.

The passenger side of the bus was significantly damaged in the crash, and passengers in the bus escaped through emergency windows, WLWT reported. The bus was one in a caravan of four, carrying a total of about 200 people who had attended the March for Life on Friday.

In a statement given to local media, the Diocese of Covington said: "This morning, a bus carrying students and chaperones home from the March for Life in Washington, DC was involved in an accident. EMT personnel and the Campbell County police have been at the scene and are handling the matter. Please join us in praying for everyone involved in this accident."

Covington Catholic students were the center of a barrage of media scrutiny following the March for Life last year, when a video published online showed Covington Catholic students as part of a confluence of demonstrators near the Washington Memorial, including some from a Washington-based religious group called the Black Israelites, and some from the Indigenous Peoples’ March.

Initially, a viral video depicted a crowd of teenage boys chanting, dancing, and doing the “tomahawk chop” cheer, while a Native American man played a drum in chanted in close proximity to Covington Catholic student Nick Sandmann, who stood silently. The drummer was soon identified as Nathan Phillips, an elder of the Omaha Tribe and Native American rights activist.

The students became the subject of widespread condemnation from media figures and some Catholic leaders, who accused them of disrespect, racism, and antagonism.

Later video and reports that emerged showed a more complex picture, depicting the protestors approaching the students rather than the students surrounding them. The students said that they were chanting school songs in response to taunts from the Black Israelites when Phillips approached.

In January of this year, CNN settled a lawsuit with Sandmann, who sued the network for accusing him of racism in its coverage of the incident.

According to the Washington Examiner and photos posted on Instagram by Catholic Connect, Sandmann attended the March for Life again this year, though it is unclear if he was on the bus that was struck in the accident or in the caravan of busses.

 

1 killed after car crashes into bus of Covington Catholic students heading home from March for Life

Lexington, Ky., Jan 25, 2020 / 11:27 am (CNA).- One person is dead and others are injured after an oncoming car struck a charter bus carrying Covington Catholic students and chaperones back from the national March for Life in Washington, D.C., local sources have reported.

According to witnesses speaking to WLWT in Kentucky, the car had been traveling in the southbound lane of AA Highway in the city of California, Kentucky, when it crossed the median into the northbound lane and hit the bus head-on.

"I saw a car come across the median and head toward me," Ricky Lynn, a witness driving north on the highway, told WLWT. "I was able to get out of the way."

The car's driver, whose name has not been released, was pronounced dead at the scene. Witnesses told WLWT that a priest on the bus gave the driver of the car a final blessing.

According to officials, four other people were sent to the hospital with minor injuries, WCPO in Cincinnati reported.

The passenger side of the bus was significantly damaged in the crash, and passengers in the bus escaped through emergency windows, WLWT reported. The bus was one in a caravan of four, carrying a total of about 200 people who had attended the March for Life on Friday.

In a statement given to local media, the Diocese of Covington said: "This morning, a bus carrying students and chaperones home from the March for Life in Washington, DC was involved in an accident. EMT personnel and the Campbell County police have been at the scene and are handling the matter. Please join us in praying for everyone involved in this accident."

Covington Catholic students were the center of a barrage of media scrutiny following the March for Life last year, when a video published online showed Covington Catholic students as part of a confluence of demonstrators near the Washington Memorial, including some from a Washington-based religious group called the Black Israelites, and some from the Indigenous Peoples’ March.

Initially, a viral video depicted a crowd of teenage boys chanting, dancing, and doing the “tomahawk chop” cheer, while a Native American man played a drum in chanted in close proximity to Covington Catholic student Nick Sandmann, who stood silently. The drummer was soon identified as Nathan Phillips, an elder of the Omaha Tribe and Native American rights activist.

The students became the subject of widespread condemnation from media figures and some Catholic leaders, who accused them of disrespect, racism, and antagonism.

Later video and reports that emerged showed a more complex picture, depicting the protestors approaching the students rather than the students surrounding them. The students said that they were chanting school songs in response to taunts from the Black Israelites when Phillips approached.

In January of this year, CNN settled a lawsuit with Sandmann, who sued the network for accusing him of racism in its coverage of the incident.

According to the Washington Examiner and photos posted on Instagram by Catholic Connect, Sandmann attended the March for Life again this year, though it is unclear if he was on the bus that was struck in the accident or in the caravan of busses.

 

Pope Francis prays at St. Paul’s tomb with Orthodox and Anglican Christians

Vatican City, Jan 25, 2020 / 11:15 am (CNA).- Pope Francis prayed at the tomb of St. Paul with Orthodox and Anglican leaders Saturday to conclude the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

“God’s priority is the salvation of all,” Pope Francis in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls Jan. 25.

“This is an invitation not to devote ourselves exclusively to our own communities, but to open ourselves to the good of all, to the universal gaze of God who took flesh in order to embrace the whole human race and who died and rose for the salvation of all,” he said.

On the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the pope presided over ecumenical vespers with Metropolitan Gennadios, representative of the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch, and Anglican bishop Ian Ernest, personal representative of  the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Pope Francis told those gathered in prayer that the Acts of the Apostles speaks to “our ecumenical journey towards the unity which God ardently desires.”

The Christian leaders also venerated the relics of St. Timothy, which were moved to Rome for the Week of Christian Unity, and will be present in St. Peter’s Basilica Jan. 26 for the Sunday of the Word of God.

Pope Francis quoted St. Paul’s first letter to St. Timothy in which Paul wrote that God “desires everyone to be saved.”

Ecumenical prayers have been held in Rome each day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Jan. 18 - 25. The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity participated in the preparation of the prayer materials for the week, as it has each year since 1968.

“From this Week of Prayer we want to learn to be more hospitable, in the first place among ourselves as Christians and among our brothers and sisters of different confessions,” Pope Francis said.

“Among Christians as well, each community has a gift to offer to the others. The more we look beyond partisan interests and overcome the legacies of the past in the desire to move forward towards a common landing place, the more readily we will recognize, welcome and share these gifts,” the pope said.

75 years after Auschwitz liberation, Europe's bishops condemn anti-Semitism, call for peace

Krakow, Poland, Jan 25, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Seventy-five years after the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, the Catholic bishops of Europe condemned racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism, calling for a renewed human commitment to peace, and forgiveness.

“75 years have already passed since the liberation of the German concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau (27/01/1945), and this place still inspires terror,” the leaders of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences and the Commission of the Bishops’ Conference of the European Union said in a Jan. 25 statement.

“At the hour of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, let us light candles and say a prayer for people murdered in death camps of all nationalities and religions and for their relatives. Let our prayers broaden the reconciliation and brotherhood, of which the opposite is hostility, destructive conflicts and fueled misunderstandings,” the bishops encouraged.

 Auschwitz-Birkenau “became a place of mass extermination of the Jewish people. In the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, the German National Socialists murdered over a million Jews, tens of thousands of Poles (70-75,000), Roma (21,000), Russians (15,000) and several thousand prisoners of other nationalities,” the bishops said.

“Due to the enormity of the Jewish victims, it is the largest site of mass genocide in the world.”

The camp, located in Poland, was liberated by the Soviet Red Army in January 1945, five months before the surrender of Germany at the conclusion of European fighting in the Second World War.

“Auschwitz has become a symbol of all German concentration camps, and even of all such extermination sites,” the bishops said.

“It is like a climax of hatred against man which took its death toll in the 20th century. It is here that the thesis on the fundamental inequality of people was brought to its final limits. Here, the Nazis took the power to decide who is human and who is not. Here, euthanasia met with eugenics.”

”Auschwitz-Birkenau is a result of the system based on the ideology of national socialism, which meant trampling the dignity of man who is made in the image of God. Another totalitarianism, namely communism, acted quite similarly, also reaching a death toll of millions.”

The bishops noted that Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis all visited the site of the concentration camp.

John Paul II, who himself was Polish, “went through the camp gate that bears the inscription ‘Arbeit macht frei,’ spent a moment in Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe’s death cell and prayed in the courtyard of block No.11 where prisoners were shot. Then he went to Brzezinka, and there he celebrated Holy Mass,” they said.

the bishops said the anniversary of its liberation “obliges us to expressly fight against all acts that trample on human dignity: racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.”

“On this anniversary, we appeal to the modern world for reconciliation and peace, for respect for each nation’s right to exist and to freedom, to independence, to maintain its own culture. We cannot allow the truth to be ignored or manipulated for immediate political needs. This appeal is extremely important now, for – despite the dramatic experience of the past – the world in which we live is still exposed to new threats and new manifestations of violence.”

“Cruel wars, genocide, persecution, and different forms of fanaticism are still taking place, although history teaches us that violence never leads to peace but, on the contrary, breeds more violence and death,” they added.

 “May the power of Christ’s love prevail in us,” the bishops’ statement concluded.
 

Pope Francis and Iraqi president discuss securing a future for Christians

Vatican City, Jan 25, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis met Saturday with Iraqi President Barham Salih, and discussed the need to secure the future of Iraq’s deep-rooted Christian population.

The president and the pontiff spoke privately for about 30 minutes before Sahil met with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.

A Vatican statement Jan. 25 said the talks focused on “the challenges the country currently faces and the importance of promoting stability and the reconstruction process.”

“Attention then turned to the importance of preserving the historical presence of Christians in the country, of which they are an integral part, and the significant contribution they bring to the reconstruction of the social fabric,” the Holy See said.

During the talks, the Vatican underlined the need to guarantee Christians “security and a place in the future of Iraq.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told EWTN News that Pope Francis also expressed his great concern for persecuted Christians in Iraq in his audience with the pope the day prior.

Christianity has been present in the Nineveh plains in Iraq – between Mosul and Iraqi Kurdistan – since the first century. However, since the ousting of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Christians have been fleeing the region.

Five years after the Islamic State captured the Christian communities of the Nineveh plains, the region’s diminished Catholic population are still in the process of rebuilding their destroyed homes and churches.

Recent tensions between the United States and Iran have heightened Iraqi bishops’ fears for Iraq’s fragile Christian communities.

“Iraqi Christians “need the certainty, reassurance, hope and the belief that Iraq can be a peaceful country to live in rather than being victims and endless collateral damage,” Archbishop Bashar Warda told CNA following an Iranian attack on an air base in Erbil Jan. 8.

The Holy See said it encouraged “the path of dialogue” and solutions in favor of the Iraqi people and “with respect for national sovereignty” in the meetings with Salih.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis began protesting government corruption and Iranian influence in Oct. 2019 in the largest protests in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

The Vatican meeting occurred one day after an estimated 200,000 people protested in Baghdad in a demonstration against the U.S. military presence in Iraq organized by Shiite groups with ties to Iran.

Amid the tensions, Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako, Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, has called for dialogue.

“The international community has a responsibility for what is happening in the region in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Iran now. They should help people to sit together and to dialogue in a civilized way and to look for a political solution,” Cardinal Sako told EWTN News Jan. 6.

Cardinal Re elected new dean of the College of Cardinals

Vatican City, Jan 25, 2020 / 05:30 am (CNA).- Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re has been elected the new dean of the College of Cardinals with Cardinal Leonardo Sandri as vice-dean.

Re, 85, will serve a five-year term under the new term limits created by Pope Francis in a motu proprio issued Dec. 21. Previously, cardinal dean, considered “first among equals,” was a position held for the duration of one’s life.

The dean of the College of Cardinals presides at the conclave for the election of the pope and represents the Holy See during the sede vacante.

Because Cardinal Re is over the age of 80, he is ineligible to take part in a conclave. The responsibility of presiding over the conclave will therefore fall to 76-year-old vice-dean, Cardinal Sandri.

Both Re and Sandri’s elections were approved by Pope Francis on  Jan. 18 and Jan. 24 respectively.

The College of Cardinals is structured in three orders, or ranks: the order of “cardinal deacons,” the order of “cardinal priests,” and the order of “cardinal bishops.”

The dean is elected by and from among the highest of these ranks, the cardinal bishops. He has the responsibility to communicate the pope’s death to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See and to the heads of nations, and he is the one who asks the pope-elect if he accepts the election, and what name he will take.

Re’s election follows the resignation of Cardinal Angelo Sodano, 92, who was elected dean of the College of Cardinals in 2005. Since 2017, Re held the position of vice-dean under Sodano, who can now assume the title of dean emeritus.

In his motu proprio Dec. 21, Pope Francis said he made the decision to set a five-year, renewable mandate “with regard to the fact that with the increase in the number of cardinals, ever greater commitments come to weigh on the person of the cardinal dean.”

The dean and assistant dean, elected from among the cardinal bishops, are “called to exercise among the cardinal confreres a fraternal and fruitful presidency of primacy inter pares,” the pope said.

Re retired as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops in 2010 after leading the Vatican congregation for ten years. He worked closely with St. John Paul II as sostituto, or deputy, at the Secretariat of State from 1989 - 2000 before his appointment as prefect of the Congregation of Bishops.

A native of Lombardy, Italy, Re was ordained to the priesthood in 1957, and entered into the diplomatic service of the Holy See. John Paul II appointed him to be an archbishop and secretary of the Congregation for Bishops in 1987 and a cardinal in 2000. Re has served as vice-dean of the College of Cardinals since 2017.

Sandri is the current prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Eastern Churches, a position he has held since 2007 when Pope Benedict XVI made him a cardinal.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1943, Sandri was ordained to the priesthood in 1967. He shortly after studied to be a papal diplomat, and went on to serve in the nunciature in Madagascar and Mauritius. St. John Paul II appointed him regent of the Prefecture of the Papal Household in 1991, and the following year he was promoted to be an assessor for the Section for General Affairs in the Secretariat of State.

Sandri went on to be appointed as an archbishop and apostolic nuncio to Venezuela in 1997, and apostolic nuncio to Mexico in 2000. After only a few months, he was called back to the Vatican to assume the position of sostituto for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State following Re.

US bishops offer prayers after Americans killed fighting wildfires in Australia

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.”