But not everyone was happy Wednesday. In South Korea, one bride sat forlornly with a black jacket thrown over her white wedding dress, tears streaming down her face. "I came here against my will," she said. "I'm too young to get married. I don't understand why I have to do something like this." She refused to give her name or age, saying only that she was a student.
Source: Rev. Moon performs biggest mass wedding in decade
Couples from around the world participate in the mass wedding ceremony at a Sun Moon University in Asan, south of Seoul, South Korea Photo: AP
Moonies hold biggest mass wedding since 1999
Some 40,000 followers of the Unification Church – popularly known as Moonies – were married on Wednesday in a ceremony that crossed four continents.
By Peter Foster in Beijing
Published: 12:16PM BST 14 Oct 2009
The mass wedding, or "True Parent's Cosmic Blessing Ceremony" as the Church refers to it, was the church's largest since 1999. It was also notable for being almost certainly the last to be presided over by the church's charismatic founder, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.
Now aged 89, the Rev Moon recently handed over day-to-day running of his church to his 30-year-old son, Reverend Hyung Jin Moon, who says that his father remains in excellent health.
Dressed in a simple black suit and sporting a bow-tie, the Rev Moon Snr blessed the couples, many of whom had only met two or three times, thanks to the church's controversial system of arranged marriages.
With his wife of 50 years at his side, the Rev Moon also addressed a crowd of 20,000 at the church's waterside university complex in Asan, south of the capital South Korean capital, Seoul.
"I pray that you become good husbands and wives, and men and women who can represent the world's 6 billion humankind," he told them as he clasped his wife's hands, sobbing himself at times.
As he spoke, thousands of other Moonie couples around the world – from Australia and America, to Brazil and Norway - were receiving wedding blessings via simultaneous broadcast.
In Sao Paulo, one bride, 40-year-old Laudicea Corina de Padua, said the wedding to her husband, a 38-year-old metalworker called Manoel chosen for her by church leaders, was the fulfilment of a lifelong dream.
"It's a dream I've had for so long. Taking part in a mass wedding only adds to the profoundness," she said, "I barely have the words to describe what I feel."
"Marrying in this way, with so many other people around the world, will give more strength to our union," her husband added, "It feels like they are all a part of us."
The ceremony, which also marked the twin landmarks of the Rev Moon's 90th birthday and 50th wedding anniversary, was a toned-down version of the mass weddings of the 1960s and 70s which won the church its reputation for cultishness.
On Wednesday the brides wore simple white dresses while the grooms dressed in black suits, red ties and white scarves draped around their necks – sober attire compared to the priestly white gowns and headpieces of bygone years.
In those days, marriages were often arranged only hours before the blessing ceremony took place, with couples being asked to place their faith in the judgement of Rev and Mrs Moon, who are known to adherents as the "true parents of mankind".
The Rev Moon, a self-proclaimed messiah figure who says he was called at the age 15 to finish the work of Jesus Christ and styles himself "The King of all Kings", continues to hold reverential status in the movement, but the church says it has modernised its practices.
The couples married on Wednesday were all introduced a few months ago and had the chance to meet each other several times before the ceremony, not unlike arranged marriage practices in India and other parts of Asia. Afterwards, a 40-day waiting period is observed before the couples are allowed to sleep under the same roof.
In New York, 22-year-old Krystof Heller said his parents had married in a 1982 mass wedding but that he had known his new wife, 23-year-old Maria Lee of South Korea, for about four months.
"It's something you grow up with. It something you anticipate through your whole life," he said, "It's not just about a mass wedding; there is the moral emphasis. The big crowd is just the perk."
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