'Moonie' Church mourns founder Sun Myung Moon

Followers mourn their leader at the Church's Seoul headquarters

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Members of the South Korea-based Unification Church are in mourning following the death of their founder, self-proclaimed messiah Sun Myung Moon.

Followers of Moon - often referred to as Moonies although they dislike the term - have held prayers at Unification churches in South Korea and elsewhere.

Moon died at a hospital in Gapyeong, South Korea, on Monday aged 92.

His church, which claims to have millions of members worldwide, became famous for its mass wedding ceremonies.

He also developed a vast global business empire, setting up newspapers, arms factories, universities and food distributors.

Unification Church headquarters in Cheonseung Mountain, Gapyeong, South Korea (3 Sept 2012) Moon's funeral will be held at the Church's vast complex on Cheonseung Mountain, Gapyeong

It is not yet clear who will take over as the head of the Church.

Moon's youngest son, Hyung-jin Moon, became its senior leader in 2008, but in a 2010 interview, he said he and his siblings did not consider themselves his successors.

"Our role is not inheriting that messianic role," he told the Associated Press.

"Our role is more of the apostles where we become the bridge between understanding what kind of lives [our] two parents have lived."

'Sky is falling'

Moon died early on Monday at a hospital near the Church's headquarters in Gapyeong, north-east of the capital, Seoul.

He had been admitted to the hospital, which is owned by the Church, two weeks ago suffering from pneumonia.

Sun Myung Moon led a mass wedding in 2009 at the Moon University in South Korea

His body has been taken to the Church's sprawling complex on Cheonseung Mountain, where it will lie during a 13-day mourning period before a burial there on 15 September.

The site, which will be opened to visitors on Thursday, has already undergone extensive building work to accommodate the tens of thousands of people expected to attend.

Bo Hi Pak, the reverend's long-time aide, said about 30,000 people had been invited from Japan alone.

Flags were flying at half mast on Monday at the Unification Church in Seoul, where members gathered to pray and mourn.

"It's hard to accept this all of a sudden. I don't know how to express this feeling," Joo Seung-ja, 64, told the Associated Press.

"Since he taught us true love, we will live our lives by preaching true love throughout the whole world till the end."

Another pastor at the church, Kim Kab-yong, said he was "heartbroken" that Moon did not live long enough to see the reunification of North and South Korea, which he said had been "a long-cherished ambition" of the leader.

But Rev Hong Sung-bok, at the International Headquarters of the Unification Church, told AP the Church would "start again with a new look repaying the love we received" from Moon.

"We have a lot of mixed emotions, but we will get it together and prepare for the coming future."

Church members also paid their respects in the Japanese capital, Tokyo, and mourning was also held at churches in Australia, Canada, the US and elsewhere.

"I feel like the sky is falling and the whole world has collapsed," one person wrote on the Church's website.

Controversy

A cult, a religion or a new religious movement?

There are no generally agreed definitions for these terms. Some insist that a religion must involve belief in a Supreme Being (which can rule out some kinds of Buddhism); others have far wider, functional definitions, which sometimes embrace secular ideologies such as Maoism.

Scholars have used the terms, cult and sect for groups that are in tension with the rest of society, a sect being a splinter from a larger movement (early Christianity was a Jewish sect), and a cult being less exclusive and often focused on a charismatic personality. In popular speech, the terms have [become] pejorative labels, intimating that the speaker disapproves strongly of the group.

For this reason, scholars in the 1970s started to use the more neutral term new religious movement to describe movements like the Unification Church, which, according to most definitions is clearly a religion, but has often been labelled as a cult.

Moon was born in 1920 in Pyongyang province, in what is now North Korea and established the Church - formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification - in 1954, saying he had been asked by Jesus to set up God's kingdom on Earth.

It was known for mass weddings, in which thousands of couples - many who did not know each other but had been paired up by the Church - were married in huge stadium-based ceremonies.

But the Church drew controversy in the 1960s and 70s, often being accused of brainwashing members, breaking up families and lining Moon's pockets.

He denied the allegations, but had to spend 11 months in jail in the US - where he moved in the early 1970s - after being convicted of tax evasion in 1982.

He returned to South Korea in 2006, leaving his religious and business empire in the hands of some of his 14 children.

But he was active as recently as March 2012, leading a mass wedding for some 2,500 followers.

He also forged ties with North Korea, meeting founder Kim Il-sung in 1991 and sending a delegation to pay respects after the death of Kim Jong-il.

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