Sun Myung Moon: Messianic leader and business mogul

Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon built his first place of worship from scrap materials some 60 years ago and went on to establish a controversial religious and business empire spanning the globe.

Moon, a South Korean who died Monday aged 92, was born to a farming family in what is now North Korea. He said he was inspired by a vision of Jesus at age 15 to complete the messianic mission interrupted by the crucifixion.

Rejected by Korean Protestant churches, he founded his own church which now claims some three million members worldwide.

Moon was tortured and sent to a labour camp while preaching in communist North Korea after World War II, according to his website biography. He was freed when guards fled before advancing US forces during the Korean War.

After trekking to the South's southern city of Busan as a war refugee, he reportedly built his first church there from discarded army ration boxes.

In Seoul in 1954 he founded the Unification Church, terming it "The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity".

It sent missionaries to Japan and the United States in the late 1950s and Moon made his first world tour in 1965. In the early 1970s he moved to the United States.

In 1974 he met President Richard Nixon at the White House and controversially urged Americans to forgive their leader for the Watergate scandal.

The following year Moon sent missionaries to 120 countries.

In 1981 he was indicted for tax evasion in the United States, in what his church claims was a move to make him quit the country, and served over a year in prison.

The church, whose devotees are often dubbed "Moonies", has been portrayed by critics as a cult which brainwashes followers -- charges it denies.

Its teachings are based on the Bible but with new interpretations, and have been condemned as heretical by some Christian organisations.

"Moon's view of God is quintessentially Korean, combining Shamanist passion and Confucian family patterns in Christian form," wrote Seoul-based author Michael Breen in his book "The Koreans".

"His God is the miserable parent who suffers in lonely agony in a world of unfilial and evil children."

The church is best known for conducting mass weddings among followers involving thousands of couples.

Moon regularly presided over such ceremonies and would personally pair up the couples who were often of different nationalities, sharing no common language or culture.

In recent years the church has given couples a chance to get to know each other before they marry, according to South Korea's Segye Times newspaper which is financed by the church.

Some 7,000 couples from South Korea and 19 other countries tied the knot at an exhibition centre north of Seoul in February 2010. The church said the event was dedicated to "the creation of a peaceful world beyond borders and races".

Moon himself officiated at the "True Parents' Cosmic Blessing Ceremony" -- a reference to the church's description of Moon and his wife as "True Parents of Mankind".

The church's business empire spans dozens of firms involved in construction, heavy machinery, food, education, the media and even a professional football club.

It owns the Washington Times newspaper and the United Press International news agency.

Moon, who met North Korea's then-ruler Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang in 1991, also has business interests there. A church-affiliated firm, Pyeonghwa (Peace) Motors, established a joint carmaking business in the North in 1999.

In 2007 the church finished construction of a "World Peace Centre" in Pyongyang.

Moon had 14 children with his current wife and several are involved in his empire. Hyung Jin Moon, youngest of his seven sons, succeeded his father as the church's most senior leader in 2008.

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