Thousands of "Moonie" members got married in South Korea Sunday -- the first since the death of "messiah" and controversial church founder Sun Myung Moon
According to the church, about a thousand new couples - many of mixed nationality who had met just days before - took part in the ceremony at the church's global headquarters in Gapyeong, east of the capital Seoul.
An additional 8,500 couples from all over the world participated via a live-streamed broadcast, the church said.
The ceremony signifies the transcending of race and religion by creating God-centered families, according to the church, which claims millions of members worldwide.
Mass weddings, some held in giant sports stadia with tens of thousands of couples, have long been a signature feature of the church and one that "Moonie" critics have pointed to as evidence of cult underpinnings.
Sunday's event carried a special resonance, with Moon's 70-year-old widow Hak Ja Han presiding for the first time and sprinkling holy water over the couples without her husband Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church. Sun died of complications from pneumonia last year, aged 92.
Those who choose to be matched by the church must confirm under oath that they are virgins, and after their wedding the couple must refrain from sexual relations for a minimum of 40 days.
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