South Korea mass wedding attracts thousands despite virus fears

Reuters/February 7, 2020

By Daewoung Kim and Youngseo Choi

Gapyeong, South Korea -- South Korean groom Lee Kwon-seok was excited to join thousands of other couples in the latest mass wedding performed by South Korea’s Unification Church on Friday, but he and his bride weren’t taking any chances amid the coronavirus outbreak.

They brought their own surgical masks to wear - his black to match his suit, and hers white to match her dress.

“I’m very happy to attend this deeply blessed joint wedding,” said Lee, 35. “Since coronavirus is going around these days, I wore a mask to be careful.”

About 30,000 people from around the world gathered at the Cheong Shim Peace World Center in Gapyeong, northeast of Seoul, according to the church. Among them were 6,000 new couples getting married, while the others were renewing vows or watching.

The mass weddings are a well-known feature of the South Korea-based church, but the spread of the new coronavirus, first reported in China, has cast a pall over many public events.

Church staff prepared hand sanitizer, handed out surgical masks and checked couples’ temperature.

In the end, only a few couples wore masks at the wedding ceremony, which was overseen by Hak Ja Han Moon, wife of the founder of the Unification Church, and known to believers as “True Mother.”

“I didn’t put on a mask because I want to be beautiful for my husband,” said a 23-year-old bride from Benin, Nguessan Myeonguet Walehet. “I want just meet the True Mother, because it’s most important for me.”

The church said the wedding was successful. The event had special significance as it also marked the 100th anniversary of founder Sun Myung Moon’s birth.

The Unification Church was founded in 1954 by the late Moon, who declared he and his wife were messiahs. From 1961 until his death in 2012, he oversaw mass weddings at which thousands were matched with spouses they sometimes had just met and who, in some cases, did not even speak the same language.

Reporting by Daewoung Kim and Youngseo Choi; Writing by Minwoo Park; Editing by Josh Smith and Gerry Doyle

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