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Sunday, February 7, 1999 Published at 17:32 GMT


World: Asia-Pacific

Thousands wed in global event

About 40,000 couples exchanged vows

About 40,000 couples dressed identically in white wedding gowns and black suits have exchanged wedding vows in South Korea in what the Unification Church said was the largest wedding ever.


The BBC's Andrew Wood in Seoul: Promotion of family values has won the church lots of political friends
A spokesman of the Church, known as the "Moonies" after its founder, says the ceremony at South Korea's Olympic Stadium wedded 12,000 couples from 193 countries while 28,000 married couples renewed their vows.

Millions more watched or renewed their vows via satellite links and on the Internet, the spokesman said.


[ image: Searching for the groom: Many couples had only just met]
Searching for the groom: Many couples had only just met
Most of the unmarried couples taking part in the mass ceremony in South Korea were said to have been personally matched through photographs by the church's leader, Reverend Sun Myung Moon.

"I am so happy," said Hong Myong-bae of South Korea, on the arm of the smiling Japanese wife to whom he had just been introduced.

"This is like a dream come true. A wedding with millions of people watching," he said.

"We get on so well, it feels so easy and natural that we know it's the right match and it's going to work out perfectly," said a Dutch physiotherapist, Nicole Stemerdink, who lives in the UK.

"We met a week ago"

Reverend Moon and his wife blessed the couples at the stadium as well as viewers from around the world.

Both were wearing a white and gold crown and draped in a flowing gold-edged white gown.

"Do you, as mature men and women who are to consummate the ideal of the creation of God, pledge to become an eternal husband and wife?" Reverend Moon asked, after sprinkling holy water on couples closest to the podium.

The crowd answered "yes" to all his questions, pledging never to divorce nor use violence against family members. They then exchanged wedding rings.

A 37-year-old Japanese woman stood holding a picture of her absent husband, who could not get off work.

Newlyweds Tibor Tanko of the Czech Republic and Morenz Alino of Poland said they were overcome with excitement.

"We met just one week ago," said Tanko. "But we feel like we are in heaven."

Brainwashing accusations

Reverend Moon, a South Korean, founded the Unification Church in Seoul in 1954 with a theology loosely based on Christianity.

He has recently returned to Korea after living in Brazil, where he has been trying to build what he calls a new Garden of Eden.

His followers say the church's goal is to build a kingdom of heaven on earth and inspire people to follow the ideology of self-sacrifice.

But the Church is said to be losing support in Europe, dogged by accusations of brainwashing recruits and breaking up families.

And its business empire in South Korea is crumbling because of the country's economic crisis.

A recent religious service conducted by the Reverend Moon was disrupted by workers from one bankrupt subsidiary demanding back pay.

The church performed its first mass wedding in 1961 with 33 couples involved.





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