The three and a half hour funeral for the Rev. Sun Myung Moon was the longest of my 30 Funerals in 30 Days Challenge. Actually, it’s the longest funeral I’ve ever experienced. The Universal Seonghwa or Farewell Ascension Ceremony that took place in South Korea was most impressive.
After Leslie Linthicum’s column about me and the 30 Day Challenge appeared in last Sunday’s Albuquerque Journal, Joy Garratt with the local Albuquerque Family Church invited me to witness the live funeral webcast. Not only were thousands of people attending the service in Korea, the event was broadcast live on the internet. Thousands more viewed the proceedings live at Unification churches in 194 countries around the world.
About 35 people had gathered here at 4:30 p.m. local time, starting with a buffet dinner. In the church’s tradition, women wore white or light-colored clothing and men wore white ties and shirts. The service started in Korea at 9:00 a.m. Seoul time on September 15. After people here in Albuquerque had a chance to eat, we watched a video of Reverend Moon’s Last Prayer, spoken just before he took his last breath. You can see his prayer and an overview of his life with English voice-over in this 12-minute YouTube video:
Up to 35,000 people gathered in Cheongpyeong, South Korea for the funeral of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the founder of the Unification Church who died on September 3 at the age of 92. He was hospitalized with pneumonia and was in intensive care since mid-August.
Rev. Moon, a high-profile international evangelist for decades, said that Jesus Christ came to him at the age of 16 and told him to finish Jesus’ mission. The Unification Church believes that Jesus was divine but that he is not God, a stance that puts it outside the bounds of traditional Christianity. Followers regard Rev. Moon as the messiah.
His church officially started in the 1950s, with missionaries being dispatched around the world by the end of that decade. His was one of several religious movements that emerged after World War II and the Korean War in South Korea and Japan. Rev. Moon was imprisoned in North Korea during the Korean War before being freed by the allies, an experience that turned him virulently anti-communist. He became active in conservative politics in the U.S. and other countries.
Globally, the church’s reach may have peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s, as hundreds of thousands joined the religious movement. In his role as church leader, Rev. Moon became famous for conducting mass weddings, including one in 1982 at New York City’s Madison Square Garden and one in 1995 in South Korea uniting 360,000 couples. I met one couple at this Albuquerque funeral who were in the New York mass wedding, still happily married.
He also gained influence in other ways as well — growing a massive, diverse business empire that included holdings in industries such as resorts, chemicals, arms manufacturing, mining and pharmaceuticals. Moon helped create news publications, universities, religious institutions and other groups. Some such organizations that Moon founded stress interfaith dialogue and peace, like the Universal Peace Federation, which advocates “building a world of peace in which everyone can live in freedom, harmony, cooperation and prosperity.”
Sun Myung Moon was referred to as The True Parent of Heaven, Earth and Humankind. He, also called The True Father, and his wife, called The True Mother, had 14 children. Four of their children had predeceased him.
The internet webcast began with a 30-minute procession to take the body from the Cheon Jeong Gung Museum to the Cheongshim Peace World Center, where 21,000 people waited inside the building and 14,000 would watch on video screens outside the building. Cameras followed the procession, led by a son carrying his father’s picture and accompanied by a young grandson. The True Mother followed the casket, escorted by other women. Everyone wore white robes.
Once the procession reached the doors of the museum, the casket was loaded onto a white and gold flower-bedecked vehicle for the short drive to the Center. A sedan with a large picture of Rev. Moon preceded his body as they drove down the road. Once the cortege reached the Center, the processional continued as in the museum. During the drive, a voice over of the MC in the Center extolled Rev. Moon’s many accomplishments in so many arenas.
Everyone in the arena and the church stood as the procession entered the arena. Attending couples, wearing white clothing and gold jackets, lined the aisle up the middle of the huge Center. The dais featured a huge floral display with an oversize portrait of Rev. Moon. White and gold uniformed pallbearers ceremoniously set the casket in front of this portrait. The True Mother took a seat on an elaborate white throne, one of two that the couple sat upon while presiding over church events.
A set of seven candles were lit by the international president of the church and his wife, the spiritual heirs to Rev. Moon. They lit in a back and forth pattern, representing three for heaven and four for earth and universal give and take.
Dr. Joon-Ho Seuk, executive director, said, “Today is a very significant moment that will never be repeated again. He has completed and perfected his mission on earth… As he enters heaven in this solemn ceremony, mankind and billions of spirits are participating.”
Everyone then sang the Cheon Il Guk anthem, called Blessings of Glory in English. Rev. Moon wrote the song.
Dr. Bo Hi Pak with the Korea Culture Foundation, said, “Heavenly Father, tightly embrace your son… What about us? Your poor children still need him. It feels like the sky has fallen, the sun has lost its light… Now that he’s gone, the sadness overflows from our hearts… We wish we could hear your voice one more time.”
Next, a floral tribute took place, the offering of flowers on a long, white-draped table. Red roses and white lily were the single stems placed upon the table. The floral offering was followed by a video of that chronicled Moon’s life and accomplishments.
The Seonghwa Address was given by Rev. Hyung-Jin Moon, international president and one of Rev. Moon’s sons. “God sent our True Father in order to bring salvation to fallen humankind,” he said. Take to heart his teachings, the path to the ideal world.” He identified January 13, 2013 as the start of cosmic unity, the establishment of freedom, truth, peace and happiness in a new era on earth and in heaven. At the end of his speech, everyone shouted “We love you” three times in Rev. Moon’s honor.
Three eulogies followed by Dong-Suk Kang, chair of the Oceanic Expo, Lord Tarsem King from the House of Lords in Great Britain, and Alfred Moisiu, fourth President of the Republic of Albania from 2002 to 2007. Each spoke of Moon’s contributions to humanity, culture, family, world peace, and democracy.
By 11:45 a.m. Seoul time, the audience on the screen was starting to look a little antsy. A hymn of praise sung by 340 singers from Korea and Japan and an orchestra with 40 musicians played two songs that rang the rafters of the large arena.
Another flower offering followed, first by The True Mother and The True Family, then by dignitaries and other special guests. Family members bowed twice, first bending from the waist, then kneeling down and making a full bow on the floor. There were flower offerings from representatives of Korea, Japan and America; from the six continents, from the main religions, from democracies around the world, and many other groups.
At the end, all stood, both in Korea and in the local church, for the Three Cheers of Eog Mansei. It was described to me as a Korean “Hip-hip-hooray!” Everyone threw their hands in the air in unison. Then, “For the endless effort on behalf of mankind,” everyone said “thank you” in Korean, repeated several times.
The recession out was as grand as the procession in, and took almost as long. By the time Rev. Moon’s elaborate inlaid casket left the building, it was 9:40 p.m. Mountain Time on September 14, 12:40 p.m. Seoul Time on September 15.
Kasia Stevens, who has known Rev. Moon for 40 years, attended the service in person in Korea. She invited me to attend the funeral at the Albuquerque Church. After the funeral, she shared the following impressions of the service.
“I wanted to share a couple of points that may not have come through the broadcast. Unexpectedly, the feeling was so powerful and tangible as I entered the stadium in Korea. It took my breath away. For us, it was a gathering of faithful brothers and sisters who came to show their love for their friend, spiritual father and leader. All of us have sacrificed something to be in this movement and there was a lot of mutual respect in the stadium. Rev. Moon touched my heart in a very personal way and it was a tremendous experience to be there with our church family in sharing that love and connection. I am still in awe about how one man could have touched so many from so many different countries,” she wrote.
“Another part of the service that perhaps was not captured on the video was the wave of tears that passed through the stadium sometime around Col. Park’s speech. I have experienced “the wave”, but never a wave of tears,” she wrote. “Rev. Moon’s Seunghwa ceremony was quite different from other ceremonies in our movement. Most of them are more joyful.”
In the Albuquerque Family Church, we closed with a prayer: “We are here to thank you for his life… Be with the family and Mother Moon. Thank you for blessing us and continue the legacy of Father Moon. Spread showers of peace through out the world… showers of praise in your son Jesus’ name. Amen.” The local reverend Rick Schnorr added, “We’ll keep him in our hearts every day… Give a little more, just as he did.”
My thanks to the Albuquerque Family Church for inviting me to witness this celebration of Rev. Moon’s transition to the next reality. It was a truly unique event. If you’d like to add a memory or story, please use the comment box below.