Thousands exchange wedding vows in mass ceremony in South Korea

SOUTH KOREA, Sept 7 (Reuters) - About 4,000 couples from 64 countries exchanged wedding vows in South Korea on Thursday, September 7th, in a mass wedding ceremony conducted by the Unification Church founded by the late Reverend Sun Myung Moon.

A further 20,000 couples worldwide participated in the ceremony via the Internet, according to the Unification Church.

Moon's widow, Hak Ja Han Moon, officiated the ceremony, which was witnessed by about 30,000 church followers and guests gathered at the church's Cheong Shim Peace World Center in Gapyeong, about 50 miles northeast of Seoul. Moon, who died in 2012 at the age of 92, had presided over mass weddings since the early 1960s.

Moon was a lightning rod for controversy and was once jailed in the United States for tax evasion. He also declared in 1992 that he and his wife were messiahs. Critics over the years have called the organization a cult, questioning its finances and how it indoctrinates followers, who are sometimes derogatorily known as "Moonies."

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Mass wedding ceremony held in South Korea
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Mass wedding ceremony held in South Korea
Newlywed couples attend a mass wedding ceremony of the Unification Church at Cheongshim Peace World Centre in Gapyeong, South Korea, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Newlywed couples bow to Han Hak-ja, widow of Evangelist Reverend Moon Sun-myung, during a mass wedding ceremony of the Unification Church at Cheongshim Peace World Centre in Gapyeong, South Korea, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Newlywed couples attend a mass wedding ceremony of the Unification Church at Cheongshim Peace World Centre in Gapyeong, South Korea, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Newlywed couples bow to Han Hak-ja, widow of Evangelist Reverend Moon Sun-myung, during a mass wedding ceremony of the Unification Church at Cheongshim Peace World Centre in Gapyeong, South Korea, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Newlywed couples pose for photographs before a mass wedding ceremony of the Unification Church at Cheongshim Peace World Centre in Gapyeong, South Korea, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Relatives take photographs of a newlywed couple before a mass wedding ceremony of the Unification Church at Cheongshim Peace World Centre in Gapyeong, South Korea, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Newlywed couples attend a mass wedding ceremony of the Unification Church at Cheongshim Peace World Centre in Gapyeong, South Korea, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Brides attend a mass wedding ceremony of the Unification Church at Cheongshim Peace World Centre in Gapyeong, South Korea, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
A groom talks to his bride before a mass wedding ceremony of the Unification Church at Cheongshim Peace World Centre in Gapyeong, South Korea, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
A bride naps as newlywed couples attend a mass wedding ceremony of the Unification Church at Cheongshim Peace World Centre in Gapyeong, South Korea, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
A groom and brides wait for their partners in front of a toliet before a mass wedding ceremony of the Unification Church at Cheongshim Peace World Centre in Gapyeong, South Korea, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Brides prepare for a mass wedding ceremony of the Unification Church at Cheongshim Peace World Centre in Gapyeong, South Korea, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
A newlywed couple poses for photographs with a cut-out of late evangelist Reverend Moon Sun-myung (L) and his wife Han Hak-ja before a mass wedding ceremony of the Unification Church at Cheongshim Peace World Centre in Gapyeong, South Korea, September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Bride Vanessa Schenkermayr (bottom L) has sits for a makeupo artist at a hotel before taking part in a mass wedding ceremony held by the unification church entitled a 'cosmic blessing ceremony', in Gapyeong on September 7, 2017. Thousands of Unification Church couples married at a mass wedding to mark the fifth anniversary of its founder and self-proclaimed messiah Sun Myung Moon. Four thousand identically-dressed couples from 64 countries crowded the hall as they participated in the ceremony in Gapyeong, east of the capital Seoul. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
A couple pose for a photo prior to a mass wedding ceremony held by the unification church entitled a 'cosmic blessing ceremony', in Gapyeong on September 7, 2017. Thousands of Unification Church couples married at a mass wedding to mark the fifth anniversary of its founder and self-proclaimed messiah Sun Myung Moon. Four thousand identically-dressed couples from 64 countries crowded the hall as they participated in the ceremony in Gapyeong, east of the capital Seoul. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Couples gather before taking part in a mass wedding ceremony held by the unification church and entitled a 'cosmic blessing ceremony', in Gapyeong on September 7, 2017. Thousands of Unification Church couples married at a mass wedding to mark the fifth anniversary of its founder and self-proclaimed messiah Sun Myung Moon. Four thousand identically-dressed couples from 64 countries crowded the hall as they participated in the ceremony in Gapyeong, east of the capital Seoul. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
A bride and groom pose for a wedding photographer at a hotel before taking part in a mass wedding ceremony held by the unification church entitled a 'cosmic blessing ceremony', in Gapyeong on September 7, 2017. Thousands of Unification Church couples married at a mass wedding to mark the fifth anniversary of its founder and self-proclaimed messiah Sun Myung Moon. Four thousand identically-dressed couples from 64 countries crowded the hall as they participated in the ceremony in Gapyeong, east of the capital Seoul. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - A bride attends a mass wedding ceremony held by the unification church entitled a 'cosmic blessing ceremony', in Gapyeong on September 7, 2017. Thousands of Unification Church couples married at a mass wedding to mark the fifth anniversary of its founder and self-proclaimed messiah Sun Myung Moon. Four thousand identically-dressed couples from 64 countries crowded the hall as they participated in the ceremony in Gapyeong, east of the capital Seoul. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Couples arrive to take part in a mass wedding ceremony held by the unification church entitled a 'cosmic blessing ceremony', in Gapyeong on September 7, 2017. Thousands of Unification Church couples married at a mass wedding to mark the fifth anniversary of its founder and self-proclaimed messiah Sun Myung Moon. Four thousand identically-dressed couples from 64 countries crowded the hall as they participated in the ceremony in Gapyeong, east of the capital Seoul. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
GAPYEONG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - SEPTEMBER 07: Couple wait for their wedding ceremony of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, commonly known as the Unification Church, at Cheongshim Peace World Center on September 7, 2017 in Gapyeong-gun, South Korea. Some 3,000 'Moonies', believers of Unification Church, which was named after the founder Moon Sun Myung, attend the mass wedding which began in the early 1960s. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
GAPYEONG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - SEPTEMBER 07: Thousands of couples attend a mass wedding held by the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, aka Unification Church on September 7, 2017 in Gapyeong-gun, South Korea. Some 4,000 'Moonies', believers of Unification Church, which was named after the founder Moon Sun Myung, attend the mass wedding which began in the early 1960s. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
GAPYEONG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - SEPTEMBER 07: South Korean Han Hak-Ja, wife of the late Rev. Moon Sun-Myung, the controversial founder of the Unification Church, attends the mass wedding of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, commonly known as the Unification Church, at Cheongshim Peace World Center on September 7, 2017 in Gapyeong-gun, South Korea. Some 4,000 'Moonies', believers of Unification Church, which was named after the founder Moon Sun Myung, attend the mass wedding which began in the early 1960s. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
GAPYEONG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - SEPTEMBER 07: A bride waits for her wedding ceremony of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, commonly known as the Unification Church, at Cheongshim Peace World Center on September 7, 2017 in Gapyeong-gun, South Korea. Some 3,000 'Moonies', believers of Unification Church, which was named after the founder Moon Sun Myung, attend the mass wedding which began in the early 1960s. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
GAPYEONG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - SEPTEMBER 07: Thousands of couples attend a mass wedding held by the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, aka Unification Church on September 7, 2017 in Gapyeong-gun, South Korea. Some 4,000 'Moonies', believers of Unification Church, which was named after the founder Moon Sun Myung, attend the mass wedding which began in the early 1960s. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
GAPYEONG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - SEPTEMBER 07: Brides wait for their wedding ceremony of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, commonly known as the Unification Church, at Cheongshim Peace World Center on September 7, 2017 in Gapyeong-gun, South Korea. Some 3,000 'Moonies', believers of Unification Church, which was named after the founder Moon Sun Myung, attend the mass wedding which began in the early 1960s. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
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