A couple wearing masks for protection from the new coronavirus, attends a mass wedding ceremony of the Unification Church at Cheongshim Peace World Centre in Gapyeong, South Korea, on Friday. Reuters
Despite the scare of the spread of coronavirus, thousands of couples got married in a mass Unification Church wedding on Friday in South Korea.
30,000 face masks were distributed to the crowd present at the church founded by Sun Myung Moon for the wedding. But only few people put on the mask.
"I am overwhelmed that I am getting married today," said Choi Ji-young, who met her husband — matched by the church —only two months ago.
"It would be a lie if I said I was not concerned at all about the infection," said the 21-year-old university student. "But I feel like I will be protected from the virus today."
A couple wears masks in a mass wedding ceremony at the Cheong Shim Peace World Center in Gapyeong. Reuters
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus in China, 24 cases have been recorded in South Korea.
In the neighbouring country of China, more than 30,000 cases of the virus have been recorded. Seoul, capital of South Korea has paused entry of foreigners from Wuhan or those that have been there recently, the epidemic centre.
Festivals, graduation ceremonies, and K-pop concerts have been cancelled over fears large events could facilitate virus transmission, and authorities have asked religious groups to co-operate in preventing it spreading.
However, the church proceeded with the wedding because it had been "four years in the making" as part of the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of Moon's birth, said official Jang Young-chul.
The official added that followers from China were asked not to come.
6,000 couples across 64 countries were married off in Gapyeong in a festive mood filling venue. A lot of the couples met for the first time in recent weeks.
One of the signatures of the church is Mass weddings, which are often held in huge sports stadiums with thousands of “Moonies” couple, the name the church followers adopted after its founder died in 2012.
Couples attend a mass wedding ceremony organised by the Unification Church at Cheongshim Peace World Centre in Gapyeong. AFP
They began in the early 1960s, involving just a few dozen couples at first but with numbers mushrooming over the years. In 1997, 30,000 couples took part in a joint wedding in Washington, and two years later around 21,000 filled the Olympic Stadium in Seoul.
Those who choose to be matched by the church must confirm under oath that they are virgins, and after their wedding the couple must refrain from sexual relations for a minimum of 40 days.
Kim Chang-seong, 27, who was marrying a woman whom he met 20 days ago, said he was not concerned about infection because the mass wedding had "special meaning" for him.
"By marrying a fellow church believer, I am taking a path paved by our church leaders."
The teachings of the Unification Church are based on the Bible but with new interpretations, and Moon saw his role as completing the unfulfilled mission of Jesus to restore humanity to a state of "sinless" purity.
While it claims a worldwide following of three million, experts suggest the core membership is far smaller.
Evelyne Chimfwembe, who flew in from Botswana to attend the ceremony with her husband of 28 years, said she was not worried about the virus as she believed the event would be "under God's control."
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Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, an estimated 30,000 weddings took place every weekend in the United States. For wedding planners, the pandemic has also proven devastating, with many bracing for huge losses and fearing they might be forced to shut down.
More than 570 people have been infected with the coronavirus across China and Wuhan, the city at the centre of the outbreak, has been placed under effective quarantine.
Authorities have apprehended, warned and penalised around 700,000 people since March for violating measures such as ignoring physical distancing and not wearing masks, police data shows.
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