WASHINGTON (CNS) — The president and vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Nov. 23 that Thanksgiving Day is a time for the nation to pause and “give God thanks for the abundant blessings he has bestowed upon us.”

“It is a grateful tradition people of many faiths have honored since even before our country’s founding,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president, and Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president.

Thanksgiving has been celebrated as a federal holiday on the last Thursday in November every year since 1863, when, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”

“In modern times, Thanksgiving has become a day when dispersed families come together again around the dinner table,” the two prelates said in a message to the country.

They asked for prayers for those who were traveling to be with family for the holiday “that God may guide them safely to their loved ones.”

“Thanksgiving is also a day of service as volunteers prepare a meal for those less fortunate. Let us pray for everyone separated from the abundance of our country that God may comfort them and opportunities may open for them to fully participate in the hope of America,” they said. “Let us also especially remember the elderly and those who are in need, as well as anyone who may be spending the day alone. May they experience the closeness of God.”

“On Thanksgiving, millions of Americans, from big cities to rural countryside, will bow their heads to say grace. They will be successful and struggling, citizen and newcomer, sisters and brothers to us all,” Cardinal DiNardo and Archbishop Gomez added. “Diverse as we are, we are united in the debt we owe to God and our desire to give him thanks. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!”