WASHINGTON, Jan 22 (AFP) - Some 3,000 people from around the world, including former British Prime Minister Edward Heath and former Zambian leader Kenneth Kaunda, gathered here Saturday to celebrate Reverend Sun Myung Moon's 80th birthday.
Hundreds of tables in the ballroom of one of the capital's larger hotels were filled with men and women, many dressed in their national costumes, who had traveled from all over the country to listen to the Korean religious leader.
The five-hour celebration kicked off with Moon, known to his followers as "True Father" and his wife Hak Ja Han Moon, cutting a seven-tiered white birthday cake trimmed with red letters announcing "Happy Birthday." Still more people crowded into the back of the main ballroom to watch short film vignettes of Moon's life, listen to US religious leaders speak and others give testimony of how Moon's teachings changed their lives. Speakers praised the work of the Moon, comparing him to great religious leaders of recent times and the far past, from Martin Luther King to Gandhi, Moses and Jesus.
"The significance of this 80th birthday party (is) to show all of us how much they have achieved in their lives," Heath said of the Moons.
"There are other who have disagreed (with Moon) and this is natural," he continued. "It is the argument that follows such situations which enables the real truth to emerge," he said.
Moon was born on a farm in the northeast corner of the Korean peninsula in 1920. In 1930 his parents became Christians and he eventually became a Sunday school teacher. By 1945 his teachings were based on the principle of a "true family".
Three years later he was thrown into a concentration camp where he remained for another three years before being freed by United Nations and US forces, according to a brochure handed out to guests at the celebration. Three former US Korean War army veterans stood to applause during the celebration, punctuated by perfomances by the New York City Symphony (owned by Moon) and various award presentations.
Moon arrived in the United States with his Unification Church in 1971. He was later found guilty of tax evasion and spent 13 months in Danbury Prison. Since then he founded the Washington Times, a conservative newspaper, and set up his True Family Values Ministry -- a mark of which became mass marriage blessings held outdoors.
Dressed in a dark suit with a dark yellow tie, Moon spoke for half an hour on the on the theme of "The path of America and Humankind in the Last Days." "Human liberation (is attained through) the restoration of the family," he said, predicting that the new millennium would mark the completion of the Christian testament with "America (as) the model for the kingdom of heaven on earth."
Heath and Kaunda presented Moon and his wife a statue of three white doves, and the event ended with performances by the Universal Ballet Company and Kirov Academy of Ballet, both founded by Moon.