Unification Church weds thousands in S.Korea

Reuters/February 7, 1999

Seoul -- About 40,000 couples -- some of whom had only just met -- braved South Korea's winter chill to exchange wedding vows on Sunday in what the Unification Church billed as the largest wedding ever.

A church spokesman said the ceremony at South Korea's Olympic Stadium wedded 12,000 couples while 28,000 married couples renewed their vows. Millions more watched or renewed their vows via satellite and through Internet link-ups, the spokesman said.

"I am so happy," said Hong Myong-bae of South Korea, on the arm of the smiling Japanese wife to whom he had just been introduced.

"This is like a dream come true. A wedding with millions of people watching," he said.

Korea-born evangelist Rev. Sun Myung Moon and his wife blessed the identically dressed couples at the stadium as well as viewers from around the world, which the church said numbered 360 million couples in 193 countries.

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.

"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, after sprinkling holy water on couples closest to the podium.

The crowd answered "yes" to all his questions, pledging to never divorce nor use violence against family members. They then exchanged wedding rings.

A 37-year-old Japanese woman stood holding a picture of her absent husband, who could not get off work.

Newlyweds Tibor Tanko of the Czech Republic and Morenz Alino of Poland said they were overcome with excitement.

"We met just one week ago," said Tanko. "But we feel like we are in heaven."

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

Moon, a South Korean, 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 performed its first mass wedding in 1961 with 33 couples involved.

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