Is mass wedding the last for Unification Church's Sun Myung Moon?

The Rev. Sun Myung Moon presided as some 10,000 couples wed or renewed their vows. His youngest son is preparing to take the helm amid thinning ranks.

Lee Jin-man/AP
Couples from around the world participate in a mass wedding ceremony arranged by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church at Sun Moon University in Asan, south of Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday.

Love was in the air and hope sprang eternal Wednesday in the hearts of about 10,000 couples, young, middle-aged, and beyond, as the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, leader of the Unification Church, gave "thanks to God" for joining or rejoining them in holy matrimony in his biggest mass wedding in a decade.

Beneath sunny skies on the expanse of a large playing field at the church's Sun Moon University, 40 miles south of Seoul, the Reverend Moon led the couples – women in pristine white, men in serious dark gray, in what may be his last such gathering, offering "thanks to God for giving us this occasion."

His Harvard-educated youngest son, the Rev. Moon Hyung-jin, did most of the sermonizing in the two-hour service, talking about the good works of his "true parents" – the phrase by which all church members are taught to view the founder and his wife.

The mass wedding was by far the largest of a number staged simultaneously around the world, from Brazil to the US to Europe, all coordinated via the Internet. The real significance may not have been the weddings, however, but the realization that Moon, who will be 90 in January, is passing on his power to son Moon Hyung-jin, who is 30 years old and eager to boost flagging membership.

The young Reverend Moon, who speaks in idiomatic American English, urging his crowd to "give it up for our true parents," holds the title of international president of the Unification Church. His father still leads the church, but the title shows the son is first in line to take over.

Other sons have responsibilities. Moon Kook-jin, the second- youngest, now is chief of a business empire that is the real source of income and power of the church and Moon's large extended family.

The Tongil Group – tongil means unification in Korean – counts as a chaebol, or conglomerate. Global interests range from fishing to ranching to the manufacture of arms to the operation of North Korea's only motor-vehicle plant, which assembles small sedans with parts made by Fiat. The church also owns newspapers, including the Washington Times and dailies in Japan and Korea.

Same date as first mass event in 1982

On Wednesday, however, love mattered most. Moon chose the date, Oct. 14, 1982, as the anniversary of his first such mass "blessing," when he joined 6,000 couples in Korea in marriage. For most of the weddings, he personally has chosen partners, sifting through photographs. But this time, he counted on introductions by parents and family members.

For half the couples, the ceremony was a first: the first time they had been married. And for the other half, it was a chance to reaffirm vows they had taken years ago, many in earlier mass weddings.

"The vows are to create a good couple and be a good family," says Julian Gray, a British citizen who was married here in a similar ceremony 20 years ago and renewed his vows with his Italian-born wife at his side. "This was a sign of our love – for each other and our four children."

However they met, newlyweds are told to postpone the wedding night.

"It's a tradition of our church we don't consummate the wedding for 40 days," says Mr. Gray. "It's to offer our wedding for a larger purpose, to offer our marriage to God, as if to show you were living in celibacy."

That injunction inspired the headline, after 2,075 couples were married in Madison Square Garden on July 1, 1982, "2,075 Couples Say I Do/But for 40 Days They Can't."

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