Whitney Houston a no-show at Moon's mass wedding ceremony

CNN/November 29, 1997

Washington -- Some 2,500 traditionally dressed brides from all over the world stood next to their blue-suited grooms in a packed stadium Saturday morning, as the Rev. Sun Myung Moon blessed their marriages, many of which he arranged himself.

But singer Whitney Houston, who was to be a headliner at Moon's "Blessing '97" event, was a no-show, despite a contract that reportedly paid her more than $1 million. Promoters of the event released a statement saying Houston was "unable to perform due to a sudden illness."

Houston had said that prior to signing the contract, she did not know that the mass ceremony was being sponsored by Moon's controversial Unification Church. Another pop star, Jon Secada, performed as scheduled.

Many other well-known people also canceled appearances they were to make during a week-long series of events known as the "World Culture and Sports Festival III," after it became widely known the events were tied to the church. The festival culminated with Saturday's wedding ceremony.

CNNfn's Lou Dobbs, former Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the daughter of the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat all canceled, most attributing their decision to scheduling conflicts.

During Saturday's mass wedding ceremony, anti-Moon protesters gathered outside the Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, while, inside, another 30,000 couples acted as witnesses and rededicated their own unions.

The dedication ceremony ended by noon, but the festivities honoring the couples were to continue throughout the day. Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan spoke.

"Because [Moon has] been vilified and demonized in the press, as I have, it doesn't mean that I should stay away from a man who is doing so much good for so many people," Farrakhan said earlier.

Many of the couples joined Saturday did not know each other previously, although many of them expressed enthusiasm for their arranged match, a common practice for members of the Unification Church. Fifteen years ago, Moon, a Korean evangelist, conducted a similar mass ceremony at Madison Square Garden in New York City. He married 360,000 couples in South Korea in 1995.

"Even before you're matched, you know that you're going to base your relationship on internal aspects, because you don't know what the person's going to look like," says Sebastian Jean, who was to take vows with Jennifer Perry, whom he met less than a week ago.

"At this point, Jennifer and I are going to be married for eternity. That's it. And that's the way I've always wanted it," he said.

Satellite hookups allowed more than 3.6 million other couples in 55 countries to witness the ceremony and take part in the day's festivities.

The controversial Moon, whose critics liken the Unification Church to a cult, served a federal prison term in the United States for tax evasion.

Some former church members, such as John Stacey, saw Saturday's event as a publicity stunt. In 1995, Stacey was matched to a Japanese wife who spoke no English. Stacey said he was brainwashed into marrying her and working for church-related businesses.

"We were forbidden from seeing our parents," he said. "In fact, after the marriage, we were separated from our spouses for years so they could get more work out of us."

Correspondent Kyoko Altman and Reuters contributed to this report.

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