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Couples celebrate mass wedding anniversary

Couples smooch on the steps of the US

Couples smooch on the steps of the US Post Office at 34th St. in Manhattan today to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the 8,000 Couples Blessing. The happy couples were joined by the Reverend Sun Myoung Moon in 1982. (July 1, 2012) Credit: Steven Sunshine

About 300 couples gathered Sunday in front of Madison Square Garden to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their mass wedding by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, kissing to demonstrate the bliss they say they've found in the arranged marriages that are a controversial hallmark of their religion.

"We've been very happy together," Gregory Davis, 62, of Deer Park, said of his wife, Sumiko, 62.

The couple married in 1982 in a 2,075-couple ceremony at the Manhattan arena after being "matched" by Moon, the South Korean founder of the Unification Church.

The church now has about 5 million members internationally, sometimes derided as "Moonies" for their cultlike following of Moon, whom they consider a messiah. Supporters said that despite cynicism toward their unorthodox tenets, the church's membership has swollen since its 1954 founding, spurred by healthy, growing families built on the foundation of arranged marriages.

"Our track record is better than other people who meet any old way," Gregory Davis said. "When we pledge ourselves to world peace, it becomes more important to work at our marriages for it."

The Davises have two adult daughters, one who is also in an arranged marriage.

The Rev. Phillip Schanker said about 75 percent of the "first generation" couples married by the church are still intact.

"It looks strange to the eyes of Westerners because we have a tradition of romantic love . . . the least successful model in history," Schanker, 57, of Cliffside Park, N.J., said. "Look at our couples, look at our kids. They know who they are, they know how to love."

Moon is now 92, and three of his children have taken up his mantle. His daughter, the Rev. In Jin Moon, delivered a sermon to thousands Sunday at the Manhattan Center's Hammerstein Ballroom. The celebration was to include an evening of ballroom dancing.

The day wasn't without protest. Gordon Neufeld, 58, of upstate Alplaus near Albany, carried a sign outside Madison Square Garden that read: "The Unification Church blessing is a curse."

Neufeld said he and his bride split up soon after their 1982 marriage because they were forced to live in separate countries to recruit church members.

New Hyde Park couple Chen Lawrence Fong and Kyoung Sook Fong have a much happier story -- and three grandchildren.

Unlike most Unification couples who never meet before their wedding day, the Fongs were already engaged before they married in 1982.

"Even though it's a mass wedding, it's also very private," Chen Lawrence Fong said. "It's between us and God."

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