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720,000 Tie the Knot Simultaneously

August 25, 1995

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ Her white wedding dress was sopping wet and rain dripped down her face, but Marina Gesker wasn’t having second thoughts, even though she just met her husband two days ago.

Surrounded today by rows upon rows of equally drenched brides and grooms, the 25-year-old New Yorker looked at Naoki Kondo, a 29-year-old Seattle fish wholesaler, and giggled: ``I’m just so happy, so happy.″

The ceremony at Seoul’s Olympic stadium for 35,000 couples was the largest of simultaneous weddings by the Unification Church for 720,000 people. A satellite hookup linked 545 sites in about 160 nations, from the Bronx to Taiwan.

Thousands of couples, like Gesker and Kondo, were matched by church founder Rev. Sun Myong Moon, who they believe uses divine inspiration. He has staged 13 mass weddings over the years, teaching that they promote world harmony.

Many were matched across national lines and do not share a common language.

That didn’t faze Brandon Olivia, a 23-year-old San Francisco fisherman, when he met his Japanese bride for the first time at the airport two days ago.

``I was meeting someone that God had prepared for me,″ he said, squinting at Hiroko Izumi, 25, through his rain-splattered glasses.

``I’ll remember this day for the rest of my life,″ he told her through a translator.

Most of the couples met on their own. Two-thirds were renewing their wedding vows. The newly matched couples are expected to spend as many as three years getting acquainted before consummating the marriage and living together.

They exchanged rings, then gave three cheers for God, Moon and the holy wedding. The bolder ones hugged and kissed; others held hands.

Several hundred held framed photographs because their intended partners did not come. They were believed to be participating via satellite in their home countries.

The cost of being married ran from $29,000 for Japanese couples to $2,000 for Americans.

Church officials say the money pays satellite costs and subsidizes the costs of 200,000 African couples. But about 80 South Korean Protestant organizations called it a moneymaking scam.

Tricy Sincavhee, 21, admits her family has not wholeheartedly welcomed her religion or her wedding. But the New Yorker is sure they will come around sooner or later.

``I’ll prove to them that it will be a happy marriage,″ she said, looking up at her Japanese husband, Akira Toyoda. He stood by silently, not understanding English.

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