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.”
The arena where the funeral service is being held seated only 14,000, and many visitors watched the ceremony from live broadcasts around the church campus here, which includes schools, a hospital and training center.
Thousands of mourners gathered outside the stadium to view the proceedings, including at least 5,000 who gathered on one deck of the stadium in front of a large video screen. Countless more lined the road leading up to the church’s holy estate and the mountainside site where Rev. Moon was laid to rest
Dozens of flags flanked the flower-decked altar topped by a large oil painting of Rev. Moon. Floral tributes from Korean and international dignitaries, including some from South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, ringed the lower bowl of the stadium.
The ascension was also broadcast live to to hundreds of locations worldwide, church officials said.
The emotional centerpiece of the funeral came with the seonghwa address given by the Rev. Hyung Jin Moon. Hyung Jin Moon, Rev. Moon’s Harvard-educated seventh and youngest son, has been named international president of the Unification Church and his father’s designated spiritual successor.
Struggling at times to maintain his composure, the younger Mr. Moon, clad in a traditional white robe, discussed at length plans to carry on the work of his father’s last great project for a global “Nation of Cosmic Peace and Unity,” with a “Foundation Day” for the new movement set for Jan. 13, 2013.
Rev. Sun Myung Moon “declared that Foundation Day will be a new day of eternal life, where a new heaven and new earth will be opened with God at the center, and where eternal liberation and complete freedom will be enjoyed,” the 33-year-old Hyung Jin Moon said, his voice cracking at times and his white-gloved hand rising occasionally to wipe his eye.
“The task that remains now on earth is ours to accomplish,” he said, as many in the audience sobbed quietly.
Hyung Jin Moon and Kook Jin Moon also took pride of place when their father’s casket was lowered into the burial vault later in the day. Many of the faithful remained in the stadium for hours after the funeral had ended, watching and praying along with those at the gravesite through a closed-circuit television feed.
The younger Mr. Moon and Rev. Moon’s widow, who succeeds her husband as formal head of the church, are expected to address officials from the church’s ministries in some 194 countries on Monday about the Unification Church’s way forward with the death of its founder. There has been speculation in church circles that Mrs. Moon will announce a world tour in the vein of the many tours her husband made over the decades to promote his 58-year-old ministry.
One discordant note from the ceremony was the absence of Hyun Jin Preston Moon, Rev. Moon’s oldest surviving son, who has been involved in a protracted feud with other members of the family over control of the church and the disposition of its commercial assets.
In a statement released through his Global Peace Foundation this week, the 43-year-old Preston Moon laid the blame for divisions in the family over the future of the church on his brothers, announcing he would hold a separate memorial service for his father at a later date in the United States.
“I am now walking a separate path and have no part in any support ‘succession struggle’ within the Unification movement,” he added. “… I shall continue to use the resources available to me to further that work.”
A CHANCE TO CELEBRATE
Mourners here seemed solemn but not downcast in the week of observances and preparation culminating in Saturday’s ceremony. While the church founded by Rev. Moon in 1954 now faces a time of unprecedented transition, many said they felt Saturday’s ceremony marked an opportunity to celebrate a long life of accomplishment.
Kenneth Read and Jeff Bateman, both from the United Kingdom, stood quietly, collecting their thoughts.
“So many people, and everyone coming from all over the world, from different faiths, different walks of life. It was really beautiful,” Mr. Read said.
“For me, it’s a gathering of those who loved him,” said Mr. Bateman, who met Rev. Moon 37 years ago and had difficulty quelling his tears. “This was like a royal occasion and a deserving one.”
“It’s very difficult to say goodbye to someone who has been part of my life for so long,” said Marilyn Angelucci, who came from the Philippines for the ceremony. “But I am determined to go forward and make his dream come true.”
“I feel an era has passed, and I missed an opportunity to do even more,” said Edmond Young, a Canadian who met the Unification Church in the late 1970s and later had chances to go fishing with Rev. Moon. “I think many people will have many tears when they hear and understand his life.”
“There’s really no reason to be downcast, when you take in the entire scope of his life,” said Elder Hudson W. Griffith, who worked with Rev. Moon and the Unification Church on ecumenical outreach through his HWG Ministry for Change in Henderson, Nev.
“While he is gone, it is the time to step back and mark the significant contributions he made, sometimes in the face of real adversity and scorn, in a very long life,” he said.
“Here was a man highly criticized many times, but who was still willing to devote his entire life and millions of dollars all for the sake of bringing the body of Christ together in the world.”