GAPYEONG, South Korea (CBS News) — The Unification Church held a mass wedding in South Korea on Sunday, with 3,500 couples from 70 countries tying the knot.
About 20,000 church officials and followers gathered at Cheongshim Peace Center in Gapyeong, south of Seoul, and 7,000 of them exchanged wedding rings.
The organizer said the event was to promote world peace and break down barriers between races.
“Here at Cheongshim Peace Center, 3,400 couples from 70 countries are attending the holy wedding and 12,000 couples from 149 countries are also attending the ceremony via satellite at the same time,” said Yang, Chang-shik, President of Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.
The couples from South Korea and abroad hugged each other after exchanging wedding rings.
“It feels very great. We get along very well. We met four days ago by True Mother’s matching. And we are happy to be here and, yeah, looking forward to life together and yeah It’s a good life, good, we’re happy. We’re really happy,” said 19-year-old Swedish-Italian Anna Misook, who married to Congolese-Brazilian bridegroom.
The church has been derided for its mass weddings because thousands of couples were matched with future spouses whom some of them had just met before the ceremony, and in many cases, did not speak the same language.
“I am very happy, first of all, to attend this holy wedding. I thank True Parents for this benefit and I will live well to meet my True Parents’ wishes,” said 27-year-old South Korean bridegroom Jeong Seong-jae, who married to a South Korean bride.
The founder Sun Myung Moon, or Rev. Moon, died in September last year at the age of 93. His wife Hak Ja Han Moon officiated the mass wedding ceremony on Sunday.
The Unification Church considers the Korean peninsula a sacred place. Its website said Jesus Christ appeared to founder and overall leader Sun Myung Moon as he was praying in the Korea mountains and asked him “to complete the task of establishing God’s Kingdom on Earth”.
The founder has been a lightning rod for controversy and was once jailed in the United States for tax evasion. He also declared in 1992 that he and his wife were messiahs.
Critics have for years vilified the organization as a heretical, weird and dangerous cult while questioning its murky finances and how it indoctrinates followers.
They describe followers of the group as “Moonies”, a term seen as derogatory.