The Rev Sun Myung Moon, the self-proclaimed messiah who turned his Unification Church into a worldwide religious movement and a multi-billion dollar business empire, has died at the aged of 92.
Church officials said Mr Moon died with his family by his side late last night at a church-owned hospital near his home in Gapyeong, northeast of Seoul, two weeks after being admitted to hospital with pneumonia.
The church gained fame and notoriety in the 1970s and 1980s for holding mass weddings of thousands of followers, often from different countries, always dressed identically, whom Mr Moon matched up in a bid to build a multicultural religious world.
In the early 1970s the term “Moonies” was coined for his followers, which he launched a vigorous but futile public relations campaign against. It later came to be commonly used by his faithful.
In that period the church faced numerous accusations of using devious recruitment tactics and duping followers out of money.
Parents of followers in the United States and elsewhere expressed worries that their children were brainwashed into joining. The church responded by saying that many other new religious movements faced similar accusations in their early stages.
The church subsequently adopted a lower profile and focused on corporate activities that included the conservative Washington Times newspaper, the New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan, Bridgeport University in Connecticut, as well as a hotel and a fledgling car maker in North Korea.
It acquired a ski resort, a professional soccer team and other businesses in South Korea, and a seafood distribution firm that supplies sushi to Japanese restaurants across the United States.
The Unification Church still claims millions of members worldwide, though church defectors and other critics said the figure is no more than 100,000 and that its chief current function is commercial.
Born in a town that is now in North Korea, Mr Moon founded his religious movement in Seoul in 1954 after surviving the Korean War. Raised a Presbyterian, he claimed a vision of Christ visited him at the age of 16 and told to finish his work on earth.
He preached new interpretations of lessons from the Bible, and fused elements of Christianity and Confucianism into his own book outlining his principles, "Divine Principle”, published in 1957.
He quickly drew young followers with his conservative, family-oriented value system and conducted his first mass wedding in Seoul in the early 1960s.
The "blessing ceremonies" grew in scale over the next two decades, with a 1982 wedding at Madison Square Garden in New York – the first outside South Korea – drawing thousands of participants.
"International and intercultural marriages are the quickest way to bring about an ideal world of peace," Mr Moon said in a 2009 autobiography.
Mr Moon began rebuilding his relationship with North Korea in 1991, meeting Kim Il-sung and claiming that he asked the North Korean leader to give up his nuclear ambitions.
He also developed good relationships with conservative American leaders, including presidents Richard Nixon, whom he defended over the Watergate scandal, Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush, but served 13 months at in a federal US prison in 1984-1985 for tax evasion.
As he grew older, Mr Moon quietly handed over day-to-day control of the church and businesses to his children.
His youngest son, the Rev Hyung-jin Moon, was named the church's top religious director in April 2008. Mr Moon is survived by his second wife and 10 children.
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