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Moon's mass ceremony joins thousands of couples

mass wedding

Washington wedding staged by Unification Church

November 29, 1997
Web posted at: 1:30 p.m. EST (1830 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Thousands of couples from around the world exchanged wedding vows Saturday in a mass ceremony arranged by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church.

Many of those joined together at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium were matched by Moon and did not know each other previously. After the event, called Blessing '97, "they will be married later in their own countries," said Howard Self, a spokesman for event organizers.

Many of the couples expressed enthusiasm for their arranged match, a common practice for members of the Unification Church. Fifteen years ago, Moon, a Korean evangelist, conducted a similar mass ceremony at Madison Square Garden in New York City and married 360,000 couples in South Korea in 1995.

"Even before you're matched, you know that you're going to base your relationship on internal aspects because you don't know what the person's going to look like," says Sebastian Jean before his wedding with Jennifer Perry, whom he met less than a week ago.

"At this point, Jennifer and I are going to be married for eternity. That's it. And that's the way I've always wanted it," he said.

More than 3.6 million other couples in 55 countries will take part in the ceremony through satellite hookups. Singer Whitney Houston was scheduled to sing, for a reported $1 million paycheck, and Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, spoke on the occasion.

"Because he's been vilified and demonized in the press, as I have, it doesn't mean that I should stay away from a man who is doing so much good for so many people," Farrakhan said.

mass wedding
A Moon-orchestrated mass wedding in New York in 1982   

The controversial Moon, whose critics liken the Unification Church to a cult, served a federal prison term in the United States for tax evasion.

Representatives for Houston, who is not a church member, say they did not know Saturday's event was being staged by Moon when she originally agreed to sing. At least one scheduled speaker, CNNfn anchor Lou Dobbs, canceled, citing a heavy workload.

And some former members, such as John Stacey, see Saturday's event as a publicity stunt. In 1995, he was matched to a Japanese wife who spoke no English. Stacey says he was brainwashed into marrying her and working for church-related businesses.

"We were forbidden from seeing our parents," he said. "In fact, after the marriage, we were separated from our spouses for years so they could get more work out of us."

Correspondent Kyoko Altman and Reuters contributed to this report.


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