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Saturday, November 29, 1997 Published at 04:30 GMT

Unification Church

Mass Moonie Marriage in the US
image: [ One of the mass ceremonies for followers of the Unification Church ]
One of the mass ceremonies for followers of the Unification Church

Some 30,000 couples are gathering in a sports stadium in Washington DC in the USA this weekend to declare their commitment to marriage.

Most are reaffirming their vows but 2,000 of them will be embarking on arranged marriages. They will be watched by millions worldwide via a satellite TV link.

Often referred to as Moonies, after their leader Sun Myung Moon, they are devotees of a faith called The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, or Unification Church.

The week-long gathering is the third World Culture and Sports Festival organised by the church, and on Saturday the RFK stadium hosts the wedding ceremony. Blessing '97 is billed as a "universal celebration of pure marital love, social and racial harmony and world peace", and allows the couples to commit themselves to marriage, their families and peace.

The movement was founded by the Rev Moon in 1954 and is dedicated to building world peace through loving families. Indeed, the Rev Moon is probably best-known for establishing new families by organising the marriages of thousands of couples - some of whom never meet before their wedding day.

Sun Myung Moon, which means 'word of shining light', was born in 1920 in what is now North Korea. He went to a Confucian school but his parents became followers of the Christian Presbytarian faith.

He taught at a Sunday school but his religious mission started in earnest in 1936 when he says he had a vision in which Jesus Christ appeared. The Rev Moon says Jesus wanted him to complete the task of establishing God's kingdom on Earth and bring peace to the world.

He studied the Bible, made his own interpretation and by 1945 had organised his thoughts into the teachings which became known as the Divine Principle.

[ image: Sun Myung Moon]
Sun Myung Moon
His philosophy is based on the original sin - the temptation of Eve by Satan and the ensuing downfall of mankind. Followers believe that the Messiah was sent by God to rid the human race of this sin and start anew. But the objective was never fulfilled because Christ was crucified before he could marry.

The Rev Moon sees his mission as continuing the work of Jesus Christ in creating a new 'family of man'. In 1960 Sun Myung Moon married Hak Ja Han and over the years they had 13 children, although two died. In 1992 at a mass rally he declared that he and his wife were the true parents of all humanity.

George Robertson, press spokesman for the Unification Church in Britain, says his followers, and the Rev Moon himself, believe that he is the new Messiah.

Mr Robertson said there are now about 750,000 members of the church worldwide and about 850 in the UK. He said that numbers are still increasing but not as fast as in the 1970s.

The Rev Moon's declarations and wealth have attracted criticism and controversy. The Moons moved to the United States in 1971 but he was jailed in New York in 1984 for tax irregularities and served 13 months of an 18-month sentence.

He was also banned from entering the UK in 1995 by the then British Home Secretary, Michael Howard.

Described by some commentators as a mix of Confucian and Christian beliefs, the religion is based on marriage and family values.

On the church's official Internet site the Rev Moon is quoted as saying: "There can only be a peaceful family of nations when you have nations of peaceful families."

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