More than 3,500 couples from more than 70 countries flocked to South Korea yesterday for a mass wedding ceremony performed by the Unification Church. Founded by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the church has been holding mass weddings since 1961 and church leaders say the ceremonies are designed to promote world peace and break down barriers between races. This was the first mass wedding ceremony held since the Reverend's death in September at the age of 92. His widow, Hak Ja-han, presided over the ceremony.
Four hundred of the church's followers, called "Moonies" after the late Reverend Moon, chose to have the church select their partners for them. Among them was Jin Davidson, a 21-year-old American whose parents' marriage was also arranged by the church.
"I was pretty nervous," Davidson admitted to the BBC. "Then all of a sudden she popped up in front of me, and I said OK." His Japanese bride, also 21, speaks very little English. Since Davidson speaks no Japanese, a language barrier will add one more hurdle to the success of their arranged comittment, but the couple is optimistic. "We see it as an exciting challenge and proof of our faith," Davidson said.
South Korea's Unification Church claims millions of members worldwide. In addition to the mass ceremony which took place south of Seoul at the Cheongshim Peace Centre, more than 8,000 couples participated in the ceremony via a live-streamed broadcast. The church website says that it was founded after Jesus Christ appeared to Sun Myung Moon, who became an incredibly popular leader among his followers. More than 30,000 people attended his funeral last September. However, the Reverend was not without critics, and many have derided his church as a cult. He was also once jailed in the United States for tax evasion. Still, the mass wedding celebrations remain popular, and they are likely to continue with his widow at the helm.