Moon Church Plans 'Blessing '97'

By The Associated Press/November 24, 1997

Washington -- The Unification Church, known for its mass weddings, is gathering thousands of couples Saturday to celebrate the institution of matrimony -- but without any new marriages.

Some 30,000 couples are expected at RFK Stadium for an "affirmation of a marriage culture," said spokesman Howard Self. The church's founder, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, and other religious leaders will offer their blessings to the couples, many married, others planning to tie the knot in the future.

"Blessing '97" comes at the end of a week of festivities billed as "World Culture and Sports Festival III," a title that may have confused some celebrities invited to take part.

Lou Dobbs, CNN's chief business correspondent and president of the CNNfn financial network, canceled a speaking engagement scheduled during the week, citing a heavy workload. Dobbs did not know of the connection with a Moon organization until after his speech was booked but that connection had nothing to do with the cancellation, Dobbs' spokesman said.

And singer Whitney Houston has said she didn't know she was agreeing to sing at a Unification Church event, only later learning of Moon's involvement.

Houston will appear at the Saturday gathering along with Jon Secada, who will sing in Spanish, and Korean star Cho Yong-Pil.

Camilia Anwar Sadat, daughter of the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and head of the Sadat Peace Institute, also announced she was withdrawing from the festivities.

A half-dozen couples, mostly members of the Unification Church, attended a briefing Monday to extol the virtues of matrimony, particularly their own marriages arranged by Moon.

"I'm so honored to be here to be able to publicly thank Rev. and Mrs. Moon for my match," said Jennifer Perry, smiling as she stood next to Sebastien Jean, whom she plans to marry. "Throughout my life I've let God guide me in everything that I do," she said.

"About two weeks ago I received the name ... and I cried, I was so happy," she said.

The two live on opposite coasts -- though they didn't give their home towns -- and are still working out were they will live and when they will wed, they said.

Several other couples who were matched and married by Moon in years past spoke happily of their situations.

"The newly blessed couples are very, very lucky because behind them is a foundation of older blessed couples. ... This is eternal," said Wanji Rowe, a native of Kenya who was matched 15 years ago with her husband, Gary Rowe of Jamaica.

While organizers of the events concentrated on their gathering and promoting the value of the celebration of marriage, The Washington Post reported that Moon himself has become discouraged by the lack of acceptance of his church in the United States and has directed his followers to concentrate on the social and spiritual group Family Federation for World Peace based in New York.

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