Rev. Sun Myung Moon

  • Born: February 25, 1920
  • Died: September 3, 2012
  • Location: Gapyeong, South Korea


In this Saturday, June 25, 2005 file photo, Unification Church leader Rev. Sun Myung Moon speaks during his "Now is God's Time" rally in New York. Moon, self-proclaimed messiah who founded Unification Church, has died at age 92 church officials said Monday, Sept. 3, 2012.

Unification Church founder dies at 92

HYUNG-JIN KIM, The Associated Press

GAPYEONG, South Korea (AP) — The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, best known for conducting mass weddings involving thousands of couples, was a self-proclaimed messiah, but he was at least as good at attracting dollars as he was at drawing converts.

His Unification Church claims 3 million followers, though ex-members and critics put the number at no more than 100,000. There is no questioning the vastness of the business empire Moon created through his church: ventures in several countries from hospitals and newspapers to cars and sushi, and even professional sports teams and a ballet troupe.

Moon died Monday at a church-owned hospital near his home in Gapyeong County, northeast of Seoul, two weeks after being hospitalized with pneumonia, Unification Church spokesman Ahn Ho-yeul told The Associated Press. Moon's wife and children were at his side, Ahn said. He was 92.

Flags flew at half-staff Monday at a Unification Church in Seoul. Followers trickled into the building, some wiping away tears. One woman bowed and cried before a copy of the church-owned Segye Times newspaper, which was placed on a table and had a large picture of Moon on its front page. Another woman bowed before a small statue of Moon and his wife.

"I am devastated," Bo Hi Pak, chairman of the Unification Church-supported Korean Cultural Foundation, said outside the hospital where Moon had been cared for. "I cannot control my emotions and focus on my work due to the sadness of losing a father."

Moon's body was transferred to the church's gargantuan white palace on Mount Cheonseong overlooking the lakes and wooded forests of Gapyeong County. His funeral will take place Sept. 15 after a 13-day mourning period, with a massive new sports and cultural center built recently on the church's sprawling campus accepting mourners starting Thursday, the church said in a statement. Moon is to be buried on Mount Cheonseong.

The mourning period is not only more than the usual three to five days in South Korea, but longer than the mourning periods for late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. It was in keeping with Moon's grandiose life, in which he encouraged followers to call him and his wife "True Parents."

Moon, who was born in a rural part of what is now North Korea, founded his Bible-based religion in Seoul in 1954, a year after the end of the Korean War. He cultivated friends among political leaders in the U.S. and — though he was an ardent anti-communist — in North Korea, though he served time in prison in both countries.

He gained notoriety by marrying off thousands of followers in mass wedding ceremonies, usually not long after being arranged to marry by Moon himself. Moon often paired up strangers hailing from different countries as part of his vision of a multicultural, family-oriented religious world.

The church has faced considerable controversy over the years, and has been accused of using devious recruitment tactics and duping followers out of money. Parents of young followers in the United States and elsewhere expressed worries that their children were brainwashed into joining.

The church rebuffs the allegations, saying many new religious movements faced similar accusations in their early years. Moon's followers were often called "Moonies," a term many found pejorative.

The Unification Church claims 3 million followers, including 100,000 in the U.S., and says it has sent missionaries to 194 countries, according to Ahn.

Richard Panzer, president of the Unification Theological Seminary in Barrytown, N.Y., said Moon's legacy will live on.

"We believe that Reverend Moon was a historical figure in the history of religion," he said. "And that he made an enormous contribution to understanding of the suffering heart of God and a lot of contributions toward world peace."

The seminary, established by Moon in 1975, is an interfaith institution with Buddhist, Christian and Muslim professors, Panzer said.

The church also quietly amassed lucrative business ventures over the years, including the Washington Times newspaper; the New Yorker Hotel, a midtown Manhattan art deco landmark; and a seafood distribution firm that supplies sushi to Japanese restaurants across the U.S. It gave the University of Bridgeport $110 million over more than a decade to keep the Connecticut school operating.

In South Korea, it acquired a ski resort, professional football teams, schools, hospitals and other businesses. It also operates the Potonggang Hotel in Pyongyang, jointly operates the North Korean automaker and has a huge "peace" institute in the North Korean capital.

Moon had hoped to help bring about the reunification of Korea during his lifetime.

Moon was born in 1920 in North Phyongan Province at a time when Pyongyang was known as a center for Korea's Christians. He said he was 16 when Jesus Christ first appeared to him and told him to finish the work he had begun on Earth 2,000 years earlier.

Christianity fell out of favor after the Korean Peninsula was divided into the communist North and the U.S.-backed South in 1945, and while preaching, Moon was imprisoned in the late 1940s by North Korean authorities and accused of spying for South Korea, an allegation he denied.

When the Korean War broke out in 1950, he went to South Korea. After leaving his North Korean wife, he married Hak Ja Han Moon in 1960.

In South Korea, Moon quickly drew young acolytes to his conservative, family-oriented value system and unusual interpretation of the Bible. The church's doctrine is a mixture of Christian, Confucian and traditional Korean values.

Moon conducted his first mass wedding in Seoul in the early 1960s, and the "blessing ceremonies" grew in scale over the years. A 1982 wedding at New York's Madison Square Garden — the first outside South Korea — drew thousands of participants.

"International and intercultural marriages are the quickest way to bring about an ideal world of peace," Moon said in a 2009 autobiography. "People should marry across national and cultural boundaries with people from countries they consider to be their enemies so that the world of peace can come that much more quickly."

Moon began rebuilding his relationship with North Korea in 1991, meeting with the country's founder, Kim Il Sung, in the eastern industrial city of Hamhung. In his autobiography, Moon said he urged Kim to give up his nuclear ambitions, and said Kim responded by saying that his atomic program was for peaceful purposes and he had no intention to use it to "kill my own people."

"The two of us were able to communicate well about our shared hobbies of hunting and fishing," Moon wrote. "At one point, we each felt we had so much to say to the other that we just started talking like old friends meeting after a long separation."

When Kim died in 1994, Moon sent a condolence delegation to North Korea, drawing criticism from conservatives at home. The late Kim Jong Il, who succeeded his father as North Korean leader, sent roses, prized wild ginseng, Rolex watches and other gifts to Moon on his birthday each year. Moon said Kim Il Sung had instructed Kim Jong Il that "after I die, if there are things to discuss pertaining to North-South relations, you must always seek the advice of President Moon."

The church also sent a delegation to Pyongyang after Kim Jong Il died in December and was succeeded by his son Kim Jong Un.

Moon also developed a good relationship with conservative American leaders such as former Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Yet he also served 13 months at a U.S. federal prison in the mid-1980s after a New York City jury convicted him of filing false tax returns. The church says the U.S. government persecuted Moon because of his growing influence and popularity with young Americans.

One of the more bizarre chapters in Moon's relationship with Washington came in 2004, when more than a dozen U.S. lawmakers attended a "coronation ceremony" for Moon and his wife in which Moon declared himself humanity's savior and said his teachings have helped Hitler and Stalin be "reborn as new persons." Some of the congressmen later said they had been misled and hadn't been aware that Moon would be at the event.

In later years, the church adopted a lower profile in the United States and focused on building its businesses. Moon lived for more than 30 years in the United States, the church said.

In recent years, Moon handed over day-to-day control of the empire to his children. In 2008, at age 88, he was in a helicopter crash near Seoul but suffered only minor injuries.

Still, in 2009 he presided over a wedding ceremony for 45,000 people marrying for the first time or renewing their vows — one of his last huge mass weddings.

Moon and his wife have 10 surviving sons and daughters, according to the church.

There are reports of a rift within the family. One of Moon's sons reportedly sued his mother in 2011 demanding the return of more than $22 million allegedly sent without his consent from a company he runs to his mother's missionary group. A court ruled that the money was a loan but ordered it returned, the Yonhap news agency reported.

Another son committed suicide in 1999, plunging to his death from the 17th floor from a Reno, Nevada, hotel, officials said. Two other sons reportedly also died early, one in a train wreck and another in a car accident.

At the time of the car accident, the son was engaged to marry the prima ballerina daughter of Bo Hi Pak, the head of the church's Korean Cultural Foundation. The wedding, dubbed a "spiritual" marriage, went ahead as planned even after his death and the daughter-in-law, Julia Moon, is a prominent figure in South Korea's arts scene.

Moon's U.S.-born youngest son, the Rev. Hyung-jin Moon, was named the church's top religious director in April 2008. Other children run the church's businesses and charitable activities.

Hyung-jin Moon told The Associated Press in February 2010 that his father's offspring do not see themselves as his successors.

"Our role is not inheriting that messianic role," he said. "Our role is more of the apostles ... where we become the bridge between understanding what kind of lives (our) two parents have lived."

The Associated Press

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — The youngest son of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon arrived in North Korea on Friday to receive mourners for the founder of the Unification Church, who died at age 92 earlier this week.

The elder Moon was born in a village in what is now North Korea. He was a supporter of peace with North Korea and his church has several businesses, including a hotel and an automaker, in the North Korean capital. He died Monday near his home in South Korea, two weeks after being hospitalized with pneumonia.

Jang Song Thaek, vice chairman of the National Defense Commission and uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was among North Korean officials who paid their respects to Moon's youngest son, the Rev. Hyung-jin Moon, in Pyongyang.

Moon's funeral will take place in South Korea on Sept. 15.

Condolence & Memory Journal

Rev. Moon was a Father, a leader and an example to me. I have spent hundreds of hours at his feet listening to him speak over a period of more than twenty years. At his passing many memories of those precious times pour over me. He loved to teach. He loved to play the audience and tease out responses. He gained strength and inspiration from his often lengthy and impassioned addresses. There was joy, there was vision, there was a kind of intimacy with those he spoke to. In those speeches I felt he opened his heart and soul and invited me in.
As the librarian of the Unification Theological Seminary, I found recordings of his early speeches in America that had not been transcribed and I sent them to Korea so that they could be included in his life work. I am proud that in some way I could contribute to preserving the record of his early years in the United States.
When I joined the Unification Church, I had given up on marriage. His vision of the family as the foundation of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth melted my heart over time. He had a gift for matching. I put my trust in him and submitted my picture for matching. My wife and I both feel that our matching and our children are a gift from God. We are forever grateful to Rev. Moon for transmitting that gift to us His behalf.
When I joined the Unification Church, I did not have a sense of purpose for my life. Rev. Moon gave me a sense of purpose that awakened in me a drive to go beyond my limitations and be more than I ever imagined possible. He challenged me to sacrifice myself for the sake of others and I did. He challenged me to keep going when I wanted to quit and I did. He challenged me to get a PhD from Columbia University and I did. He awakened in me a passion for life and a vision of service to others which is very much a part of my daily life. I am no longer a Unificationist, but the passion and dedication that I bring to my life of faith as Mormon will always be part of Rev. Moon's legacy to me.

Posted by Thomas C. Bowers - Kingston, NY - Mutual Friends   September 05, 2012

My spouse and I were matched by Rev. Moon back in 1998 by photos only. I didn't know if I was doing the right thing by getting matched back then, but our relationship survives to this very day, and we now have a beautiful baby boy. His life is a great miracle, and he is a super cute, super sweet and super intelligent little man bringing joy to our lives everyday. Although many arranged marriages didn't work out, I can speak from personal experience that my spouse turned out to be an ideal life partner for me, and vice versa. I see in our son a great mix of our physical features, my spouse being Japanese and myself caucasian. I love my son's looks and sweet personality...Rev. Moon knew what he was doing :)

Posted by Jean Takarada - Bridgeport, CT - supporter of Rev. Moon   September 04, 2012

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In this Saturday, June 25, 2005 file photo, Unification Church leader Rev. Sun Myung Moon speaks during his "Now is God's Time" rally in New York. Moon, self-proclaimed messiah who founded Unification Church, has died at age 92 church officials said Monday, Sept. 3, 2012.
Unification Church leader Rev. Sun Myung Moon speaks during his "Now is God's Time" rally in New York, Saturday, June 25, 2005. Billy Graham is also is hosting a religious event in New York this weekend.
In this July 4, 1985 file photo, Rev. Sun Myung Moon smiles and waves as he leaves the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Conn. Moon, who heads the Unification Church, was jailed last July on tax evasion charges. He left Danbury to serve the remainder of his sentence at a halfway house in Brooklyn, N.Y. Rev. Moon, self-proclaimed messiah who founded the Unification Church, has died at age 92 church officials said Monday, Sept. 3, 2012.
In this Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2009 file photo, Rev. Sun Myung Moon speaks during a mass wedding ceremony arranged by the church at Sun Moon University in Asan, South Korea. Rev. Moon, self-proclaimed messiah who founded the Unification Church, has died at age 92 church officials said Monday, Sept. 3, 2012.
In this Saturday, Sept. 14, 2002 photo, Rev. Sun Myung Moon, center left, and his wife Hak Ja Han Moon walk down a red carpet as they are introduced during the Affirmation of Vows part of the Interreligious and International Couple's Blessing and Rededication Ceremony at New York's Manhattan Center. About 500-600 couples participated in the New York ceremony and an estimated 21 million couples participated worldwide via a simulcast to 185 countries. Rev. Moon, self-proclaimed messiah who founded the Unification Church, has died at age 92 church officials said Monday, Sept. 3, 2012.
In this Saturday, Nov. 29, 1997 file photo, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, center left, and his wife Hak Ja Han Moon officiate a mass wedding ceremony during at RFK Stadium in Washington. Moon, self-proclaimed messiah who founded the Unification Church, has died at age 92 church officials said Monday, Sept. 3, 2012.

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The Rev. and Mrs. Sun Myung Moon wave to the crowd gathered Sunday, Nov. 30, 1997, at the Washington Convention Center to mark the end of the week-long World Culture and Sports Festival. On Saturday, the Moons, founders of the Unification Church, officiated a mass marriage affirmation ceremony for 28,000 couples.
Unification Church founder Rev. Sun Myung Moon, second from left at top left, spreads holy waters during a mass wedding ceremony in Asan, South Korea, Sunday, Oct. 10, 2010. Some 7,200 South Korean and foreign couples exchanged or reaffirmed marriage vows in the Unification Church's second mass wedding this year.
In this Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2009 file photo, couples from around the world participate in a mass wedding ceremony arranged by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church at Sun Moon University in Asan, south of Seoul, South Korea. Moon, self-proclaimed messiah who founded the Unification Church, has died at age 92 church officials said Monday, Sept. 3, 2012.
The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, is released to a halfway house in New York July 5, 1985 after serving 11 months of his 18-month federal prison sentence for tax evasion. Moon, 65, was accompanied by security personnel, and an unidentified woman.