3,000 couples in Unification Church mass wedding

3,000 couples in Unification Church mass wedding
Couples attend a mass wedding held by the Unification Church at Cheongshim Peace World Center in Gapyeong, east of Seoul, on Feb 20, 2016. Hundreds of couples were married at the South Korean headquarters of the Unification Church.

Seoul - Thousands of couples took part in a mass wedding Saturday by South Korea's Unification Church, with the widow of church founder Sun Myung Moon presiding over the event at a giant stadium.

Three thousand identically-dressed couples from 62 countries, including 1,000 new couples and 2,000 already-married pairs, participated in the three-hour ceremony at Gapyeong which hosts the South Korean headquarters of the church.

Mass weddings, often held in sports stadiums with tens of thousands of couples, have long been a signature feature of the church founded by Moon in 1954.

Moon's widow Han Hak-Ja urged the followers to make the utmost efforts to complete the mission to "build heaven on Earth" by the year 2020.

Blake Matthews and his bride Kieva Pace, both 24 and from North Carolina, said they had been together for eight years since they met in high school.

Matthews said he wanted to take back "this sense of community with people who don't even really know each other".

"Everyone's still kind of a family," he said.

The newly-wed couple said they planned to go on a honeymoon trip to the southern island of Jeju.

Moon died in September 2012, aged 92, of complications from pneumonia.

Revered by his followers but denounced by critics as a charlatan who brainwashed church members, Moon was a deeply divisive figure.

His shadowy business dealings saw him jailed in the United States.

The church's mass weddings began in early 1960s. At first, they involved just a few dozen couples but the numbers mushroomed over the years.

In 1997, 30,000 couples tied the knot in Washington, and two years later around 21,000 filled the Olympic Stadium in Seoul.

Many were personally matched by Moon, who taught that romantic love led to sexual promiscuity, mismatched couples and dysfunctional societies.

Moon's preference for cross-cultural marriages also meant that couples often shared no common language.

Two thirds of the couples participating in Saturday's ceremony were married before joining the church and chose to renew their vows as full members.

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