3,000 Couples Get Married in First Mass Moonie Wedding since Sun Myung Moon's Death

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By Fiona Keating | February 18, 2013 4:49 AM EST

Mass Moonie Wedding in South Korea: over 3,000 couples tie the knot (Reuters)

Over 3,000 identically dressed couples from 70 countries got hitched in South Korea - including some who met just days earlier.

The couples were members of the Unification Church. Many were of mixed nationality, and did not speak the same language.

The wedding was the first since their "messiah" and controversial church founder Sun Myung Moon died five months ago aged 92, of complications from pneumonia.

The latest ceremony was presided over by Hak Ja Han, Moon's 70-year-old widow.

It took place in a stadium at the church's global headquarters in Gapyeong, east of the capital Seoul, where Moon's elaborate funeral was held on 15 September.

These mass weddings, some held in giant sports stadiums, have long been a feature of the church.

In recent years, matchmaking responsibilities have shifted towards parents.

But 400 of the latest church members to be married had chosen to be paired off a few days before at an "engagement ceremony" presided over by Moon's widow.

One groom, Jin Davidson, said of his Japanese bride, Kotona Shimizu: "We struggle a little to communicate right now, as I speak no Japanese at all, and she only speaks a little English, but we see it as an exciting challenge and proof of our faith."

The mass weddings began in the early 1960s and over the years grew in size. In 1997, some 30,000 couples were married in Washington.

In 2009, Moon married 45,000 people in simultaneous ceremonies worldwide.

Nearly all were personally matched by the religious leader, who taught that romantic love led to sexual promiscuity, mismatched couples and dysfunctional societies.

Many were married a few hours after meeting for the first time, and Moon's preference for cross-cultural, international marriages meant that they often shared no common language.

The Unification Church claims to have 3 million followers around the world, though critics say the figure is no more than 100,000.

The Rev Sun Myung Moon claimed that at 15, he saw a vision of Jesus, and agreed to the son of God's request to "take over my work".

He was a staunch anti-communist who ran a business empire as well as a church and spent 30 years living in the United States.

But Moon's business practices aroused suspicions and in 1978, the US congressional subcommittee on international organisations issued a report on the Moon church, which it described as "a multinational corporation ... a paramilitary organisation ... and a tightly disciplined international political party".

It added: "Among [its] goals is establishment of a worldwide government in which the separation of church and state would be abolished, and which would be governed by Moon and his followers."

In 1982, Moon was imprisoned in the United States for 13 months after being found guilty by a jury of wilfully filing false federal income tax returns, and conspiracy.

Moon was known for having vast wealth, his international media conglomerate News World Communications founded The Washington Times in 1982.

By 1991, Moon said he had spent about £65 million on the paper which he called "the instrument in spreading the truth about God to the world".

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