Matchmaker Moon Sets Mass Wedding Ceremony

SEOUL -- Days before his wedding, Hana Lee still hasn't met his future wife. Like hundreds of thousands to be married Friday in simultaneous mass ceremonies around the world, he has put his faith in divine guidance.

"I told my bride it was a match intended by God, and that I was so happy,'' said Lee, 26, who is in the United States studying advertising.

The matchmaker is the Reverend Sun Myong Moon, head of the Unification Church, which preaches that arranged marriages promote family ties and even global peace: Some people are paired to help heal cross-cultural rifts.

For his 13th mass wedding, Moon and his wife will bless 35,000 couples in a Seoul stadium, surpassing his record of 20,000 in 1992. Nearly half are flying in for the occasion.

A satellite link will permit simultaneous ceremonies at 545 sites in more than 100 countries.

Altogether, 720,000 people will be involved, although two-thirds will be renewing their vows. It would be the equivalent of the entire population of Amsterdam getting married at the same time.

Most of the new couples met on their own. But tens of thousands are strangers who are expected to spend the first few months getting acquainted before consummating the marriage and living together.

Some are paying dearly for the privilege of being married by Moon, from 2.8 million yen ($29,000) for Japanese couples to $2,000 for Americans.

In a joint statement, about 80 South Korean Protestant organizations called the wedding a huge swindle designed to make Moon rich. It claimed the church has collected 1 trillion won ($1.3 billion) over the years for the group weddings.

Church officials say the charges will pay for the satellite links and subsidize the costs of 200,000 African couples.

Moon and his wife have been sifting through photographs sent by hopeful brides and grooms for 15 months, church spokeswoman Joy Garratt said. The photos are stuck on walls or bulletin boards, categorized by sex, age, nationality and any preferences or limitations, such as medical conditions or inability to have children.

The Moons say they match people using the inspiration of God, taking into consideration the preferences and limitations, and the international "healing'' that needs to take place.

So while many couples are chosen for similar backgrounds, Lee, a South Korean, has been matched with a Japanese woman.

Japan ruled Korea as a colony for 35 years, and animosity between the neighboring countries remains at a high level.

The couples can reject a match, but few do, said international liaison officer Julian Gray.

Lee has only seen his fiancee's picture and spoken with her several times by telephone, in halting, broken English.

"When I first saw the photograph of my future bride, I didn't feel anything,'' said Lee, who began attending the church at age 11 with his family.

"But when I realized this is the person I will spend the rest of my life with, I was thankful that the decision had not been left up to me.''