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The Rev. Sun Myung Moon to be laid to rest in South Korea

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 10:22 AM EDT, Fri September 14, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ceremony in Cheongpyeong, South Korea, will take place Saturday
  • Prayers, singing, floral tributes, eulogies expected as Moon's remains arrive at an arena
  • Moon, 92, died on September 3 after complications related to pneumonia
  • The Unification Church founder had been a high-profile evangelist for decades

(CNN) -- Up to 30,000 people are expected to gather in Cheongpyeong, South Korea, on Saturday for the funeral of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the controversial founder of the Unification Church who died this month.

The ceremony, at the church-built Cheongshim Peace World Center, will take place after nearly two weeks of mourning. During this period, an estimated 180,000 people visited the mortuary where his body has been put on display to pay their respects, church official Ryu In-yong told CNN.

Prayers, singing, floral tributes and eulogies are expected as the remains of Moon arrive at the arena. After a two-hour ceremony, he will be laid to rest on Mount Cheonseong in the northern South Korean province of Gyeonggi -- known as the "holy land" of the church.

The 92-year-old died on September 3 after complications related to pneumonia. He had been in intensive care in a Seoul hospital since August after he fell ill, church spokesman Ahn Ho-yeol told CNN at the time.

Moon had been a high-profile international evangelist for decades, having said that Jesus Christ came to him in the 1930s and "told him to finish (Jesus') mission," according to James Beverley, a professor at the Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto.

See more religion news on CNN's Belief Blog

The Unification Church believes that Jesus was divine but that he is not God, a stance that puts it outside the bounds of traditional Christianity. Followers regard Moon as the messiah.

His church officially started in the 1950s, with missionaries being dispatched around the world by the end of that decade. His was one of several religious movements that emerged after World War II and the Korean War in South Korea and Japan, drawing from "a tremendous pool of people ... looking for answers as to why the world had turned (against them)," said Virginia Commonwealth University professor David Bromley.

Moon was imprisoned in North Korea during the Korean War before being freed by the allies, an experience that turned him "virulently anti-communist," according to Eileen Barker, a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Globally, the church's reach may have peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s, as hundreds of thousands joined the singular religious movement, Beverley said. Critics have said the controversial Moon led a cult, whose followers were colloquially known as Moonies.

TIME: The life and times of Reverend Moon

In his role as church leader, Moon became famous for conducting mass weddings, including one in 1982 at New York City's Madison Square Garden and one in 1995 in South Korea uniting 360,000 couples.

He also gained influence in other ways as well -- growing a massive, diverse business empire that included holdings in industries such as chemicals, arms manufacturing, mining and pharmaceuticals.

Moon helped create news publications, universities, religious institutions and other groups. Some such organizations that Moon founded stress interfaith dialogue and peace, like the Universal Peace Federation, which advocates "building a world of peace in which everyone can live in freedom, harmony, cooperation and prosperity."

But Moon also fell afoul of the law, serving a federal prison term in the United States for tax evasion. From 2003 to 2005, Britain's government also prohibited him from traveling to that country, according to a U.S. State Department report.

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