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South Korean Mass Wedding: Thousands of Couples Married Together in 'Moonie' Church

First Posted: Feb 12, 2014 02:07 PM EST
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Today was a very special day for thousands of couples, as they gathered together and tied knots in a mass wedding in South Korean "Moonie" church.

The massive ceremony was held at the CheongShim Peace World Centre, a vast sports and cultural complex located on the outskirts of South Korean capital Seoul (Gapyong-gun). In fact, with the stadium's 25,000 seats, it is the second largest arena of its kind in Asia, as well as the same venue where the funeral of Sun Myung Moon, the religious leader and self-proclaimed messiah, took place in 2012.

Overseen by the reverend's 71-year-old widow Hak Ja Hang, who is described as "True Mother" by followers from all around the world, today's mass "cosmic blessing" ceremony had 2,500 "Moonie" couples. They were identically dressed -- women in white wedding dress paired with veils and gloves, and the men in black suits with white shawls. Confetti was released in the air after the couples confirmed under oath that they are virgins, sprinkled holy water, recited vows pledging themselves to be faithful to each other, and exchanged rings and prayers.

While some of them were already married and engaged for a while, there were others who met just days before. Not only that, there were couples who did not speak the same language as each other, which apparently is a part of the faith's tradition. "After the matches were confirmed, it was a joy to watch the new couples converse happily with one another," the church's American website said, "many of them with the help of a translator."

Moreover, there were 140 people from 10 different countries who were born into the church - 43 men and 97 women. They gathered at a camp near the stadium last week for a "matching ceremony" to meet their new partners for the first time.

The newlyweds-to-be then went to classes and lectures before putting on their wedding clothes after lunch and waiting for the "True Mother" to match them up with each other. Hang began matching the oldest candidates working her way down to the youngest. "It's weird to think that any one of these women who I am sitting next to during lectures, or eating lunch at the same table with, could be my future spouse," said one of the American participants.

The couples must then refrain from sex for at least 40 days. The period of abstinence is to echo Jesus's 40 days and nights wandering the desert, where the Bible says he remained in the wilderness as the devil appeared and offered him a string of temptations, all of which he rejected.

Today's unusual ritual was the second wedding held since the death of Moon, who founded the globally prominent Unification church in South Korea in 1954. The leader had said he had a vision in which God told him to do the messiah's work, and the church now claims to have three million members.

The highly controversial figure gained followers worldwide, as he was famous for personally pairing up couples that could not even speak the same language. The reverend preferred marriages to be across cultures and nations, since his teaching included that more earthy romantic love ruined society by leading to sexual promiscuity and badly-matched couples.

"Over a three-day period, the wife gives rebirth to her husband from the position of mother and then receives him in the position of wife," the website reads. "Then in the position of father, the husband gives rebirth to his wife and receives her in the position of husband. Through this process, God breathes into the couple a new conjugal life."

The first ceremony back in 1961 had only 33 couples, however it soon expanded. The mass wedding in 1997 attracted 30,000 couples in Washington D.C. and just two years later, 21,000 filled the Olympic Stadium in Seoul.

In 1982, Sun Myung Moon was jailed for 13 months in the U.S. for filing false federal income tax returns. His church insisted he had been pursued by the authorities because he was being accused of leading a cult. He died in September 2012 at the age of 92 of complications from pneumonia.

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