Moonies hold mass wedding in South Korea

Gapyeong - Thousands of couples have taken part in a mass wedding at the South Korean headquarters of the Unification Church – the third such event since the death of Sun Myung Moon, their self-proclaimed messiah and church founder.

About 3,800 couples, some of whom had met just days earlier, participated in the ceremony in Gapyeong, east of the capital, Seoul.

Mass weddings, often held in sports stadiums with tens of thousands of couples, have long been a signature feature of the church, founded by Moon in 1954.

Moon died in September 2012, aged 92, of complications from pneumonia. His 72-year-old widow, Hak Ja Han, presided over Tuesday’s ceremony.

The church’s mass weddings began in the early 1960s. At first, they involved just a few dozen couples but the numbers mushroomed over the years.

In 1997, 30,000 couples tied the knot in Washington, and two years later around 21,000 filled the Olympic Stadium in Seoul.

Many were personally matched by Moon, who taught that romantic love led to sexual promiscuity, mismatched couples and dysfunctional societies. Moon’s preference for cross-cultural marriages also meant that couples often shared no common language.

The majority of couples participating on Tuesday had married before joining the church, and had chosen to renew their vows as full members.

Around 800 new couples married on Tuesday had chosen to be matched four days earlier at an engagement ceremony presided over by Moon’s widow, though in recent years matchmaking responsibilities have largely shifted towards parents.

Michael Schroder, a 20-year-old from London, said he had been “extremely nervous” before being paired off with his new Japanese wife, Atsumi Sato, 21. “But now I’m just very happy and very excited,” Schroder said. Sato said she had been unable to sleep all night, “so I’m really tired, but happy as well”.

Those who choose to be matched by the church must confirm under oath that they are virgins, and after their wedding the couple must refrain from sexual relations for a minimum of 40 days.

Revered by his followers but denounced by critics as a charlatan, Moon was a deeply divisive figure who was once jailed in the United States for tax evasion.

The teachings of the Unification Church are based on the Bible but with new interpretations, and Moon saw his role as completing the unfulfilled mission of Jesus to restore humanity to a state of “sinless” purity.

While the church claims a worldwide following of three million, experts suggest the core membership is far smaller.