Suva, Fiji Islands -- The Unification Church of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon is continuing to build connections with Pacific Islands governments and the news media.
In the Marshall Islands: Two high level American officials with organizations associated with Reverend Moon came to Majuro to meet with President Kessai Note and Marshall Islands government officials. They discussed plans for the Reverend Moon's donation of US$ 1 million for construction of a new high school, the Marshall Islands Journal reported.
In the Fiji Islands: Minister for Information Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, Director of Information Eliki Bomani and Fiji Daily Post acting editor Mesake Koroi left for a world media conference run by an organization affiliated with the Unification Church. A Ministry of Information statement said the theme is "A Unified Direction for the Media in the New Millennium."
Neil A. Salonen, President of the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, USA, and Joe A Tully, President of Hawaii-based Pacific Rim Integrated Development, distributor of the Moon-owned Washington Times, visited Majuro.
They told the Marshall Islands Journal that Reverend Moon is committed to supporting educational developments in the Marshall Islands and other Pacific Islands.
Reverend Moon is head of the Unification Church, the religious movement he founded in South Korea in 1954. Its members are sometimes called "Moonies."
According to a listing in the Encyclopedia Britannica, there has been controversy about Unification Church recruitment practices, appeals for money, business policies, and conformity to immigration and tax laws.
Responding to criticism from church and government leaders in the Marshalls to the Moon presence, Salonen said that much of the highly negative reaction to the Unification Church came during the 1970s.
He said this was when it was new to the United States, and American church leaders saw the Unification Church as a threat.
As people get more familiar with Moon's program and activities, Salonen said, while individuals might choose not to participate or may disagree with various points of view, they won't view Moon or his organization as "scary."
Salonen has been a church member since the mid-1960s, the Marshall Islands Journal reported.
Similarly, while Moon's purchase of the financially troubled University of Bridgeport was subjected to harsh criticism in the media in the mid-1990s, that too has died down, he added. He said people came to see that the university is committed to education, not promoting Unification Church membership.
Both Salonen and Tully said that a global focus of Reverend Moon is education, particularly for developing nations that have less access to education opportunities. The pledge of US$ 1 million for a high school in the Marshall Islands was not a preconceived idea or a plan for a "church-run" school, they said.
When Moon visited Majuro in October at the invitation of President Note, he asked the President what the priority need of the country was, Salonen said.
When Note said "education," Reverend Moon's response was to give US$ 1 million to build a high school, he said.
Later on, upon returning to the U.S., Moon felt it would be unfair to limit the pledge of education funding only to the Marshall Islands. So he advanced the offer of a US$ 10 million education fund to which other Pacific Islands could apply for assistance.
This was the pledge that was announced during an international conference held in Majuro in November, which was jointly sponsored by the Marshall Islands government and the Moon-founded International and Inter-Religious Federation for World Peace organization.
The federation also recently held a seminar in the Solomon Islands titled "Building a Culture of Peace: Character, Family and Public Service." It attracted support from within the Solomon Islands government.
"There is US$ 1 million available for a school in the Marshalls," Salonen said. But the planning for the school, including such details as design and location, are up to the Marshall Islands to develop, he said. They are now waiting for the Marshalls to respond with this information so that plans can be further advanced, he said.
It is up to the Marshalls to tell the Moon organization how it wants funds to be used for this education project, he indicated.
The Marshall Islands Journal said there had been much local debate about Reverend Moon and his Unification Church, and a fair amount of criticism aimed at President Note for "bringing" Moon to the Marshalls.
But it said a Cabinet paper from the last government, dated September 24, 1997, had turned up. It said the previous Cabinet, in minutes signed by then-President Imata Kabua, approved the charter of incorporation for a Unification Church branch. This is known officially as "The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Inc."
Meanwhile, Fiji Minister for Information and Communications Ratu Inoke Kubuabola is currently attending the 18th World Media Conference in Tokyo, Japan. He is accompanied by the Director for Information Eliki Bomani.
Fiji Daily Post staff confirmed that acting editor Koroi also is in Tokyo for the conference.
The conference is sponsored by the World Media Association, which in turn is affiliated with the Unification Church.
According to the Unification Church website (http://unification.org/) the World Media Conference was established by Reverend Moon to advance the cause of world peace by championing freedom and moral responsibility in the press.
A Fiji Ministry of Information statement said Ratu Inoke joins 300 other media professionals and political figures from over 60 countries who have gathered to consider the responsibility of the media in a rapidly changing world.
The conference addresses the theme of "A Unified Direction for the Media in the New Millenium," it said.
Among other things, a crucial issue to be discussed at the conference is the impact of media behavior on political relations both within and between nations, the Ministry of Information statement said.
The World Media Association has held a series of such conferences around the world. The first was held in October 1978, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, under the theme, "The Future of the Free Press."
* An Encyclopedia Britannica listing says of Reverend Moon and the Unification Church: "By name of Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, religious movement that was founded in South Korea in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon. The movement shifted its base to New York City in 1971. Its network of missionary, cultural, and economic enterprises extends to more than 100 countries and is said to involve more than 200,000 believers. Only about 10,000, with considerable turnover, are members of the highly visible American branch.
"The basic teachings of the movement are posited in Divine Principle, written by Moon in the early 1950s with the aid of biblical study and revelation. The movement, influenced by yin-yang motifs and Korean shamanism, seeks to establish divine rule on earth through the restoration of the family based on the union of the Lord and Lady of the Second Advent (believed to be Moon and his wife, Hak Ja Han).
"According to Unification doctrine, God's efforts to reestablish rightful order reached a provisional climax in Jesus, who, by exemplifying individual oneness with God, inaugurated the kingdom spiritually but was prevented by his crucifixion from restoring divine rule through procreative marriage. The completion of Christ's thwarted work is believed to be approaching its final stages in the mission conferred by the ascended Jesus on Moon.
"Unification stresses communal and devotional discipline as well as unreserved commitment to such practical work as fund-raising, business operations, and educational, missionary, and humanitarian activity.
"Controversy about the "Moonies" - a derisive name the members of the Unification Church now espouse - has mounted with regard to their recruitment practices (said to include protein starvation and brainwashing), appeals for money, business policies, and conformity to immigration and tax laws."