Four weddings? The Moonies prefer 20,000

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The Independent Online

Thousands of couples married yesterday in a mass global wedding organised by South Korea's Unification Church. It was the largest in a decade and potentially the last for the church's 89-year-old leader Reverend Sun Myung Moon.

The spectacle, featuring live links from Sweden, Brazil and the US, came as Rev Moon, the church's controversial founder, moves to hand over day-to-day leadership to three sons and a daughter.

Hyung-jin Moon, the 30-year-old braced to take over religious affairs, insists his father is healthy and remains in charge.

More than 20,000 people gathered at Sun Moon University campus in Asan, south of Seoul, for yesterday's "blessing ceremony" while another 20,000 joined simultaneous ceremonies from around the world. Some of the participants were new couples in unions arranged by the church; others were renewing their wedding vows. "I'm a little bit nervous," admitted Rie Furuta. She and groom Tadakuni Sano, both 25-year-olds from Japan, had met only three times since their marriage was arranged in March.

Critics say the weddings show the church operates like a cult, brainwashing adherents into turning their lives over to Rev Moon, a self-proclaimed Messiah who says Jesus Christ called upon him to carry out his unfinished work.

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