Sun Myung Moon, head of the cultic Unification Church and one of the world's most enigmatic religious leaders, died September 3 at age 92 in his native South Korea. A statement from his church's headquarters said its founder died at one of its own medical facilities of complications from pneumonia.
Moon, who assembled a conglomerate of businesses in the 1950s that produced such items as ginseng tea, pharmaceuticals, marble vases, and firearms, founded the Unification Church in 1954. The church, which conferred messianic stature on its founder, reportedly has millions of adherents worldwide, and in recent years was most notorious for its mass wedding ceremonies between brides and grooms that Moon himself had selected for one another. Moon presided over the ceremonies, donning an ornate robe and wearing a crown upon his head.
Voice of America News reported that while Moon was once considered a staunch anti-communist, “he later set aside ideology to do business with North Korea's founder, the late Kim Il Sung. A church-affiliated firm, Pyeonghwa Motors, established a carmaking business in partnership with the North Korean state in 1999.” Moon had reportedly hoped to help facilitate the reunification of the two Koreas during his lifetime.
The Washington Post reported that under the control of Moon — and in recent years some of his children — the Unification Church has “quietly amassed lucrative business ventures ... including the Washington Times newspaper; the New Yorker Hotel, a midtown Manhattan art deco landmark; and a seafood distribution firm that supplies sushi to Japanese restaurants across the U.S. It gave the University of Bridgeport $110 million over more than a decade to keep the Connecticut school operating.” In South Korea, the paper continued, it “acquired a ski resort, professional football teams, schools, hospitals and other businesses. It also operates the Potonggang Hotel in Pyongyang, jointly operates the North Korean automaker and has a huge 'peace' institute in the North Korean capital.”
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Photo of Sun Myung Moon: AP Images