GAPYEONG, South Korea — Tens of thousands of mourners descended on this remote rural retreat to pay their final respects to Unification Church founder Rev. Sun Myung Moon in a solemn two-and-a-half hour ceremony Saturday.
The red casket with intricate gold trim containing Rev. Moon’s body made the long slow passage to the raised altar just after 10 a.m. for the “seonghwa” — memorial and ascension — ceremony, borne by eight pallbearers in white military tunics with orange and gold trim. Rev. Moon’s wife of 52 years, Hak Ja Han, walked stoically immediately behind the casket, dressed like other family members in a flowing white robe.
At the ceremony’s close, as those who packed the indoor stadium sang a hymn, the casket was carried back down the middle aisle to be transported to a smaller burial service on a nearby mountainside.
The emotional highlight of the burial came when Hyung Jin Moon and Kook Jin Moon, the two sons charged by their father with the leadership of his global religious and commercial mission, led immediate family members in a silent prayer as they held hands and knelt over the polished granite slab covering the burial vault.
Mrs. Moon then placed the first shovelful of dirt on the coffin, as a small group of top church officials and colleagues of the spiritual leader looked on.
Outsiders have been sharply divided over the size and scope of the Unification Church in recent years, but there was no gainsaying the outpouring of emotion or the large crowds who trekked to this out-of-the-way complex an hour from Seoul in the days leading up to the final farewell.
The two upper levels of the of the Cheongshim Peace World Center indoor stadium were completely filled two hours before the funeral, the men in black suits with white ties and the women almost uniformly dressed in cream- or white-colored gowns.
Church officials estimated that some 35,000 people made the journey to Gapyeong Saturday to mark the passing of Rev. Moon, who died from complications of pneumonia Sept. 2 at the age of 92. Cars and dozens of chartered buses were already backed up on the two-lane road that leads to the center as dawn broke four hours before the ceremony was to begin.
Also in attendance was a large international delegation of political, diplomatic and religious figures who worked with Rev. Moon’s ministry, which grew from a tiny, embattled church in his native South Korea to a global spiritual movement and an affiliated commercial empire comprising real estate, manufacturing and agricultural operations, and media properties including The Washington Times.
Clergy, political leaders and members of the church’s Universal Peace Federation recalled before the ceremony Rev. Moon’s ministry and lifelong drive to bridge the differences and end the divisions between the world’s great faith traditions.
“What stands out for me was his determination and courage to end the infightings in the world,” said Lord Tarsem Singh King, who broke a barrier himself when he became the first politician of Asian ancestry to join Britain’s House of Lords.
Lord King was one of several dignitaries who spoke at the funeral, praising Rev. Moon’s lifelong work to break down denominational walls between religions. Rev. Moon, he said, had proved time and again “his willingness to risk his life for the sake of Gold’s will.”
“Father Moon’s legacy is still alive and well,” he said.
Peter Lokeris, a Ugandan cabinet minister, said: “I heard about Rev. Moon in the 1990s and learned that he was answering the call of God to love one another and become one family under God. We think the people of Africa and the world should enjoy peace as proud people of God.”
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Raised in Northern Virginia, David R. Sands received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He worked as a reporter for several Washington-area business publications before joining The Washington Times.
At The Times, Mr. Sands has covered numerous beats, including international trade, banking, politics ...
Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor. Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...
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