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Sunday, November 30, 1997 Published at 18:49 GMT



World

Thousands blessed at Moonie mass marriage
image: [ Marriage ceremony also beamed to millions around the world by satellite link, say Church officials ]
Marriage ceremony also beamed to millions around the world by satellite link, say Church officials

Thousands of couples, some of whom had never met, have taken part in a mass marriage ceremony organised by the Unification Church, whose followers are often known as Moonies.

About 2,500 of the couples - dressed in identical white gowns and sombre dark suits - were having their union blessed for the first time. Some 30,000 also had their wedding vows renewed at the Washington stadium.

The ceremony differed from past events because of its stress on other religions. The church's 77-year-old founder, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, has said it needs to become a non-denominational movement that stresses the importance of traditional values.


[ image: Reverend Moon, 77, has no obvious successor and calls for his Church to open its doors to other faiths]
Reverend Moon, 77, has no obvious successor and calls for his Church to open its doors to other faiths
Rev Moon, clad in white and gold and wearing a crown, married the couples after reciting a long prayer in Korean during which he asked them to build "the ideal family" in the tradition of the Unification Church.

Most of the veiled brides, who came from the US, Japan, Korea, Latin America and Africa, appeared confident that the Rev Moon had chosen the right bridegroom for them.

"He will have the same ideas I have on marriage and on raising a family," Michelle Myers, a 23-year-old Californian, said of the Russian man whom she was to marry. Her bridegroom, however, could not attend because of visa problems.

Flower Guaman, 33, of Costa Rica, held tightly to the arm of her husband-to-be from Ecuador. Miss Guaman, who joined the church a year ago, said it "has good ideas to raise a family and prepare my future life".

As she waited impatiently in the Robert F Kennedy stadium for her unknown bridegroom, a 25-year-old Japanese woman named Yumiko said in broken English that she was "happy, happy".


[ image: Many of the couples had not met before the marriage ceremony]
Many of the couples had not met before the marriage ceremony
Organisers said the couples had come from 185 countries and that the event was broadcast in 54 countries, reaching 39.6 million couples of all faiths.

Six leaders of other religions - Hinduism, Islam, the Orthodox Church, Buddhism, Sikhs and Catholics - also blessed the group. The leaders included Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam.

Officials noted that the marriages did not have legal status and that the couples would get legally married back home.

The Unification Church, which Rev Moon created in 1954, claims some 50,000 members in the US, although some experts believe there only a few thousand active members. The church has been accused of brainwashing its followers and embezzlement.


[ image: Another couple tie the knot]
Another couple tie the knot
Outside the stadium a small group of protesters handed out pamphlets, saying, "tens of thousands of families have suffered because of the deceptive mind-control practices of the Moon organisation".

"Moon is dangerous, it's a destructive cult, they systematically teach us to lie," said John Stacey, 23, who said he left the group in 1996 after four years.

"I had to escape at night. I thought I would be killed."

BBC Washington correspondent Katty Kay reports the event was seen as a bid to rejuvenate the Moon Church





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