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In Sanford and Cairo, a call to worship – and post-conflict peace

Egypt's Muslims began the holy month of Ramadan with some calling for national unity. In Sanford, Fla., pastors sought to heal a divided community after the George Zimmerman not-guilty verdict.

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Pastor Joel Hunter, left, of Northland Church, arrives with Pastor Quintin Faison, center, of Rescue Church of God, and Pastor Marvin Scott, of Second Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, in Sanford, Fla. arrive in court to watch the George Zimmerman trial June 12.

Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/AP Photo

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With tensions still high in Egypt after the military ouster of the elected president, Muslims on both sides of a sharp political divide nonetheless began to pray and fast last week in observance of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

In Sanford, Florida, too, after Saturday’s not-guilty verdict for George Zimmerman, churches across the city of 54,000 welcomed people to a special day of prayer on Monday. For months, a coalition of black and white religious leaders known as Sanford Pastors Connecting had worked together to help the city cope with issues surrounding the killing of Trayvon Martin.

Communities with large numbers of faithful are often challenged to bring healing in the face of violence and social friction. Religion is too often used to justify hatred or even killing. Most of the time, however, it serves as an opportunity for an entire people to forgive each other, do good deeds, and reflect on a need for God.

Whether the peaceful practice of Islam in Egypt or of Christianity in Sanford will eventually help resolve tensions in those places remains to be seen. But during prayerful rituals like Ramadan or Sanford’s special day of community worship, glimmers of hope sometimes emerge.

In Sanford, pastors were allotted four seats in the courtroom during the Zimmerman trial to help them better inform parishioners of the nuances of the case – beyond the sensationalism portrayed in mass media. And the pastors stepped up efforts to improve race relations and reach out to young people to help them avoid legal trouble. A post-verdict protest in Sanford was very small compared with those in big American cities.

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