Obituary: Sun Myung Moon

Evangelist Reverend Sun Myung Moon in 2011 Sun Myung Moon claimed he was the new messiah

The Rev Sun Myung Moon founded the Unification Church, regarded by its critics as a dangerous cult.

Its followers, popularly known as Moonies, were once a regular sight on high streets around the world.

Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church is best known through events like its mass weddings, where thousands of couples are married at the same time, having only just met their lifetime partner.

Born in what is now North Korea in 1920, Moon claimed that God had chosen him to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. He founded the church in 1954, claiming he was the New Messiah.

His adherents, shared their leader's strong belief in marriage and his hatred of communism.

They were often to be seen selling peanuts and flowers to raise money for the church, which was constantly accused of brainwashing its members, breaking up families and lining the pockets of its leader - allegations which were fiercely denied.

There is no doubt, though, that Moon was a very wealthy man. He owned large and lavish properties in the United States, founded the Washington Times newspaper and ran arms factories in South Korea.

Wealth and controversy

But the Reverend Moon guarded his wealth, eventually criminally. Convicted of massive tax evasion in the 1982, he swapped his sharp suits for prison uniform, spending 11 months behind bars.

On his release, he joined with other American churches to campaign for religious freedom.

He was outspoken in his beliefs. "God is living in me and I am the incarnation of himself," Moon told one interviewer. "The whole world is in my hand and I will conquer and subjugate the world."

Mass wedding ceremony arranged by the Unification Church  in Cheonan, South Korea, in August 2005 Sun Myung Moon's Church organises mass weddings

Not everyone was impressed with Moon's sentiments and, in 1995, the British government barred him from entering the United Kingdom.

In May 2001 the Unification Church pulled off a remarkable coup, marrying a Roman Catholic Archbishop, Emmanuel Milingo, to a South Korean bride in a ceremony in New York City.

The Vatican was outraged but, before he recanted and returned to Rome in disgrace, Archbishop Milingo provided valuable publicity for Moon's organisation.

Two years later, Moon provoked outrage when, in a sermon, he condoned the Holocaust because it was the Jews' payment for killing Jesus.

Sun Myung Moon's fervent speeches brought him followers around the world but the debate, as to whether he was truly a great spiritual leader, or a confidence trickster who fleeced the gullible on a global scale, will continue.

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