Brides in white gowns and Japanese kimonos joined grooms in black suits and red ties today for the Unification Church's biggest mass wedding in a decade, a spectacle church officials say will involve 40,000 people in cities around the world.
The "blessing ceremony" is the church's largest since 1999, and may well be the last on such a grand scale officiated by the 89-year-old Rev Sun Myung Moon, the controversial founder of the Unification Church.
There was no sign of Moon as the festivities got under way at the university he founded in Asan, south of Seoul. He was expected to offer the blessings and vows to 21,000 people in South Korea and the estimated 20,000 taking part by video in simultaneous ceremonies from Sweden to Brazil.
The mass wedding comes as Moon is moving to hand day-to-day leadership over to his children, and today the Rev Moon Hyung-jin, the 30-year-old son tapped to take over religious leadership, led the ceremony at the flower-festooned altar.
His sons insist their father remains in charge of the church and in good health. Officials say the massive global ceremony is meant to mark two key anniversaries in the leader's life: his 90th birthday and his 50th wedding anniversary.