Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Thousands Say 'Yeh' at Moon Wedding

SEOUL -- Her white wedding dress was sopping wet and rain dripped down her face, but Marina Gesker was not about to let that ruin her day, even if she was marrying a man she met just two days ago.

Surrounded by rows upon rows of equally drenched brides and grooms, the New Yorker, 25, looked at Naoki Kondo, 29, a Seattle fish wholesaler, and giggled: "I'm just so happy, so happy."

The ceremony Friday at Seoul's Olympic stadium for 35,000 couples was the largest of simultaneous weddings by the Unification Church for 720,000 people around the world. A satellite hookup linked 545 sites in about 160 nations, from the Bronx to Taiwan.

Many of the couples, like Gesker and Kondo, were matched by church founder the Rev. Sun Myong Moon, who they believe uses divine inspiration. He has staged 13 mass weddings over the years, teaching that they promote world harmony.

Many were matched across borders and do not speak the same language.

But that did not faze Brandon Olivia, 23, a San Francisco fisherman, when he met his Japanese bride for the first time at the airport two days earlier.

"I was meeting someone that God had prepared for me," he said, squinting at Hiroko Izumi, 25, through his rain-splattered glasses.

"I'll remember this day for the rest of my life," he told her through a translator.

Most of the couples met on their own and two-thirds were renewing their wedding vows. Several hundred held framed photographs because their intended partners did not come. They were believed to be participating via satellite in their home countries.

The highlight of the two-hour ceremony came when Moon and his wife, dressed in flowing white-and-gold robes with matching crowns, asked the couples -- including those thousands of miles away -- whether they promised to wed.

"Yeh!" thundered 70,000 brides and grooms, meaning "Yes!" in Korean.

They exchanged rings, then gave three cheers for God, Moon and the holy wedding. Firecrackers, trumpets and balloons announced them husbands and wives. Everybody clapped and waved. Some of the bolder hugged and kissed. Others held hands.

The cost of being married by Moon is dear, at 2.8 million yen ($29,000) for Japanese couples to $2,000 for Americans. Church officials say the charges pay for the satellite links and subsidize the costs of 200,000 African couples.

But about 80 South Korean Protestant organizations issued a joint statement calling it a scam to make Moon rich.

Tricy Sincavhee, 21, says her family has not welcomed her wedding but is sure they will come around. "I'll prove to them that it will be a happy marriage," she said, looking up at her Japanese husband, Akira Toyoda. Toyoda, a non-English speaker, stood silently by.