Hundreds of people have gathered in Darwin to mourn the deaths of three Northern Territory residents killed in the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 tragedy.

People are not hard-wired to hate one another, a Darwin bishop has reminded hundreds who gathered to mourn the deaths of three Northern Territory residents killed in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

St Mary’s Star of the Sea Cathedral in Darwin’s CBD was at capacity on Wednesday night for a commemorative mass to remember teacher Emma Bell and public servants Wayne and Teresa Baker.

They were among 298 people killed when their flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over Eastern Ukraine last Thursday in an apparent missile attack thought to be perpetrated by Russian separatists.

“If we don’t take seriously the command to love one another then the consequence is we must accept that atrocity, hatred, war, death and sadness are in some way inevitable and expected and maybe even somewhat normal,” Bishop Eugene Hurley told the multi-faith congregation.

“When any of us refuses to forgive, or harbours prejudice, or accepts injustice of any sort then we add to the hatred and madness that leads to the tragedy we are witnessing.

“War and hatred are not inevitable. We are not hard-wired to hate each other … these are things we choose to do.”

NT Chief Minister Adam Giles said the shooting down of the plane was a “monstrous act”, and the families of those on board were suffering an “almost unbearable trauma that few of us can comprehend”.

Wayne Baker, 55, was enjoying a six-week European holiday, having retired after a long career in the NT government Treasury, and his wife Teresa, 53, was planning to do the same after many years in the Department of Children and Families.

A message was delivered by a friend of their sons Jeff and Steven, who were with their grandparents on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, where the Bakers had planned to move.

“They say thank you very much for your thoughts and prayers … it means a lot to them,” she said.

Ms Bell had just turned 30 and was “a highly respected teacher who uprooted her life to work in some of our most remote communities, a difficult job that’s not for everyone”, Mr Giles said.

“She had her whole life in front of her, a young woman with a generous and sensitive nature.”

He said Territorians were fundamentally adventurous and the three victims were no exception.

“They all died doing what they loved, travelling… We cannot let those responsible rob us of that pleasure,” Mr Giles said.