Faithfuls mourn loss of Unification Church founder

Tens of thousands of followers of the Unification Church gathered at its Seoul compound on Friday to mark the first anniversary of its founder Rev. Sun Myung Moon's death.

About 25,000 people from 70 countries took part in the memorial ceremony that was broadcast live worldwide on the Internet from the CheongShim Peace World Center, a church-owned sports and cultural center, in Gapyeong, 60 kilometers east of Seoul.

The self-claimed messiah died at the age of 92 on Sept. 3, 2012, due to complications from pneumonia.

"Let's march after march until we can build a heaven of freedom, peace and reunification on earth beyond Asia, taking over Rev. Moon's long-held cherish for inter-Korean reunification," Han Hak-ja, Moon's widow who now heads the church, said during the ceremony.

Venerable Seongta, chief Buddhist monk of the Bulguk Temple in the southeastern city of Gyeongju, said in his speech during the ceremony that the reverend lived a life of sacrifice, dedicating his entire life to making a peaceful world for the mankind.

"Such words as peace activist, philosopher, educator and messiah are not enough to describe him," Seongta said.

Meanwhile, the late founder's third and oldest living son, Moon Hyun-jin, the fourth son Moon Kook-jin and Moon Hyung-jin, the seventh, were all absent from the ceremony.

The Hyun-jin did not attend his father's funeral last year either as he was in a legal dispute with the church over various business-related issues.

But the absence of Kook-jin and Hyung-jin is drawing keen attention as they were known as business and religious heirs of the late founder amid media reports that Han seized power after Rev. Moon passed away.

Both of the sons were reportedly staying in the United States after stepping down as Tongil Group chairman and the Korea regional chairman of the Unification Church, respectively.

Prior to the memorial ceremony, the church unveiled some 120 items of late Moon's belongings, photos and the church's scripture written by the late founder in various exhibitions that were held for a week from Saturday to mark the death anniversary.

Also unveiled was a pair of Pungsan dogs of a mixed breed with wolf found in North Korea that the country's leader Kim Jong-un allegedly sent as a present to the family in February.

Kim named the dogs respectively as "Jeongju" and "Anju" after the hometowns of late Moon and his wife, according to the church.

The late Moon was born in 1920 in Jongju, North Pyongan Province in North Korea and founded the Unification Church in 1954, one year after the Korean War ended in an armistice.

The church, officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, now claims some 3 million followers in 194 countries.

It gained international attention for conducting mass weddings among followers, with one ceremony marrying some 30,000 couples.