An estimated 34,000 brides and grooms around the world tied the knot today in a mass wedding organized by the Unification Church.
Church founder Rev. Sun Myung Moon, 89, officiated the ceremony at Sun Moon University in Asan, South Korea, where more than 25,000 newlyweds and church followers received a blessing from whom they worship as the "true parent."
Tens of thousands more Unification Church members from abroad participated in the mass wedding through live Internet broadcast and satellite television stations from their respective locations, according to Kim Sang Hee, press relations officer at the Unification Church headquarters in Seoul.
While some newlyweds were partnered with spouses chosen by Moon, the others were couples renewing their vows simply to be recognized and blessed by the church.
"These women and men here today who represent the 6 billion population of the world shall construct a peaceful home centered around God," Moon said.
Moon, a self-proclaimed messiah who says he was 15 when Jesus Christ called upon him to carry out his unfinished work, has courted controversy and criticism since founding the Unification Church in Seoul in 1954.
Creating a Multicultural Religious World
He staged his first mass wedding in the early 1960s, arranging the marriages of 24 couples himself and renewing the vows of 12 married couples.
In the next two decades, the wedding grew in scale: The first outside South Korea was at New York's Madison Square Garden in 1982. That one drew tens of thousands of participants, and protesters. Critics point to the wedding as evidence that the church brainwashes its followers.
In many cases, Moon paired off many couples from different countries as part of his aim to create a multicultural religious world. "Our Reverend is not just a religious leader, he is the leader of world peace," Kim, the church press officer, told ABC News. "He wants to tear down barriers of race, religion and nation. And the only way to do that is through cross-marriages within his blessings."
Danbee Lee, Monica Suk and The Associated Press contributed to this article.