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“In the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol hang eight large paintings depicting scenes of America’s founding and its spiritual history. One of those is the ‘Embarkation of the Pilgrims,’ painted by Robert Weir and placed in the Rotunda in 1843.
“The painting shows the Pilgrim leaders in 1620 kneeling in prayer around a Geneva Bible, appealing to God for safe travel aboard their ship Speedwell before their passage from the Old World to a new life in America. On the ship’s sail is written ‘God with us’ and a distant rainbow symbolizes the promise of a better life.
“After their arrival and establishment at Plymouth colony, the Pilgrims survived a harsh winter, faced deadly disease, and secured peace with the Wampanoag people. In 1621, after harvest, the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag enjoyed a three-day festival. It is from that feast we derive our celebration of Thanksgiving Day.
“Despite losing half their number that first year, the Pilgrims were still humbled by God’s faithfulness and provision. Edward Winslow, who attended the feast, wrote: ‘And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want…’
“This week as we gather to celebrate Thanksgiving Day 2011, let us remember the many previous generations who worked to make America the greatest and freest nation the world has ever known. We are thankful for their undying commitment to the cause of liberty.
“Let us also give thanks to Almighty God who provides abundance and prosperity. Because of His blessing, America’s industry and exploration remain the standard to which other nations are compared. And while great challenges lay ahead, there is also great hope because of God’s faithfulness.
“Finally, let us remember the courageous women and men of the United States military. We live in freedom because of their sacrifice and service. To my fellow citizens, I say Happy Thanksgiving and best wishes this holiday season.”