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Korean 'messiah' leaves behind religious and business empire (+video)

The Rev. Moon Sun-myung founded the Unification Church, The Washington Times, and a motor vehicle line in North Korea. 

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“He is telling us to challenge us to reach levels that we had not imagined possible in order to find God in our personal life and accomplish great dreams for God and humanity,” says Robin Marsh, secretary-general in London of the Universal Peace Federation, one of the groupings through which Moon spread his teachings. “He invested so many hours and resources in raising, educating, and training us, for which I am very grateful.”

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After founding the Unification Church in Seoul soon after the Korean War ended in 1953, Moon opened congregations in South Korea, spread his teachings to Japan and finally, in 1972, left for the US. There he lectured widely – and even got to see President Richard M. Nixon after calling for Americans to “forgive, love, and unite” during the Watergate scandal.

Moon built a global following even though, as he often boasted, he was imprisoned half a dozen times – first in North Korea, then in South Korea, and finally in the US. Indicted in 1981 for tax evasion, he spent 13 months in the federal penitentiary in Danbury, Conn.

Outreach to North Korea

Among the greatest contradictions of Moon’s career was his passion for reconciliation with North Korea even while he appeared anticommunist in the cold war and a loyal fan of Park Chung-hee, the general who seized power in South Korea in 1961 and ruled until his assassination by his intelligence chief in 1979.

Looking for business and influence inside the Soviet bloc and also in North Korea, Moon met Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990 and one year later saw the North Korean dictator Kim Il-sung in Pyongyang. He professed “a special relationship” with North Korea while his organization founded a motor vehicle plant for assembling vehicles from Fiat parts and designs in the port city of Nampo. The company, named Pyeongwha, for Peace, Motors, makes sedans for privileged North Koreans.

Moon’s vision extended from commerce to the media. He founded The Washington Times with the aid of a retired South Korean Army officer and diplomat, Pak Bo-hi, who remained one of his right-hand men, as well as daily newspapers in Seoul and Tokyo and magazines in the US, Japan, Korea, and elsewhere.

One of his organizations in 2000 bought the remnants of United Press International, a once great news agency that had fallen on hard times. Among other interests, Moon companies have manufactured small components of military weapons in South Korea.

Mass weddings

Moon and his wife probably garnered the most publicity, however, through mass weddings over which they presided as “True Parents of Mankind.” The two saw themselves as empowered by God to join couples in holy matrimony through which their followers would be released from original sin. 

Moon officiated as “the King of all Kings” while his wife blessed the women in white gowns, the men in dark suits and mostly red neckties. Venues ranged from Madison Square Garden in 1982 to Seoul’s Chamshil Stadium in 1992.

In the last such ceremony more than two years ago, at a spacious exhibition center near Seoul, 7,000 couples from Korea and 20 other countries said “I do” at “The True Parents’ Cosmic Blessing Ceremony.”

For many, Moon leaves behind a sense of puzzlement mingled with humor about the controversies he inspired and his uncanny way of weathering storms of criticism.

“I would say he got away with it over and over and over and yet over again,” says Tom Coyner, a business consultant in Seoul. “The world will simply be a bit less colorful place with the passing of the Korean messiah.”

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