Pastor urges people to be peacemakers in times of divisiveness and thankful to God for blessings

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Thanksgiving Day started with a church service for dozens of families in north Alabama.

In Madison, a crowd filled the pews at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, where the pastor found many reasons to be thankful, but also noted a long way to go for people in earning those gifts.

"Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God," said Father Phil O'Kennedy from the altar as he welcomed parishioners.

That was the basis of his homily to his parishioners at 9:00 a.m. mass Thanksgiving morning.

"We've been greatly blessed as a nation and turn back to God and give thanks," said O'Kennedy.

In his homily, O'Kennedy acknowledged recent events dividing the country, including a black 18-year-old killed in Ferguson, Missouri, and a black 12-year-old fatally shot in Cleveland, Ohio.

"Not everybody's included in the blessings and not everybody feels included in the unity," he said.

Fr. O'Kennedy called for people to be peacemakers around the world and expressed disappointed at the violence due to differences in religious beliefs.

"As a Catholic priest [it's] a tragedy that religion would be an element of division," he said. "This is not the mind or heart of God.  I think all of us in some way contribute either to unity from the radical equality and the desire to include all in sharing the gifts of the land or we're part of the division."

O'Kennedy ultimately hoped to remind people where blessings come from according to the Catholic faith.

"Most importantly, I'm thankful for the presence of God in my life who has sent this beautiful family that I have," said parishioner Terry Thompson.  "And for this country that we live in, in spite of the turmoil at times, it is the best place to be."

"We didn't generate this ourselves, it's given to us as a gift," said Joe McCarty, another parishioner.

Fr. O'Kennedy said he believes division begins with attitudes and encouraged people to strive for the mind and heart of Jesus to help heal the country.