Unification Church weds 3,500 couples in S.Korea

Reuters/February 16, 2002

Seoul -- Some 3,500 couples from around the world -- many of whom had only just met -- braved South Korea's chilly weather on Saturday to exchange wedding vows in what the Unification Church billed as one of its largest ever ceremonies.

The couples, including about 4,000 people from 186 countries, were married at South Korea's Olympic Stadium, while millions more watched or renewed their vows via satellite and through Internet link-ups, the church said in a statement.

Some brides and bridegrooms attended the ceremony alone, holding a picture of their absent spouses, who could not join the ceremonies for various reasons.

South Korean-born evangelist Rev. Sun Myung Moon, wearing a white and gold crown and draped in a flowing gold-edged white gown, presided over the ceremony from a podium, accompanied by his similarly attired wife.

As the theme song from the romantic movie "Titanic" blared and more than 10,000 well-wishers watched, Moon blessed the identically dressed couples.

"Do you, as mature men and women who are to consummate the ideal of the creation of God, pledge to become an eternal husband and wife?" Moon asked, sprinkling holy water on the couples closest to the podium.

"Yes," the crowd answered, pledging never to divorce nor use violence against family members.

Newly-wed Shin Hwa-sun, a 23-year-old South Korean, said she was overcome with excitement.

"We met a week ago," she said as she clutched the arm of her smiling groom Leandros Olivas, 24, who flew from the United States.

"I can't say how happy I am," she said.

The church often brings together members who have never met, playing match-maker based on photos and personal information.

Moon founded the Unification Church in Seoul in 1954 with a theology loosely based on Christianity.

His followers, often referred to disparagingly as "Moonies," say the church's goal is to build a kingdom of heaven on earth and inspire people to follow the ideology of self-sacrifice.

The church, which says it has about 4.5 million "full-time" followers worldwide, performed its first mass wedding in 1961 with 33 couples involved.

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