SEOUL — Sun Myung Moon, a self-proclaimed messiah who founded the controversial Unification Church and turned it into a multi-billion dollar business empire, died in South Korea early Monday at the age of 92.
Moon, who was hospitalised with complications from pneumonia more than two weeks ago, passed away just before 2:00 am (1700 GMT Sunday), Moon’s spokesman told AFP.
The church on Friday said the religious leader had critical organ failure and quoted doctors as saying he had entered “an irreversible stage of his condition”.
Moon, a South Korean, was born to a farming family in what is now North Korea. He said he was inspired by a vision of Jesus at age 15 to complete the messianic mission interrupted by the crucifixion.
Rejected by Korean Protestant churches, he founded his own church which now claims some three million members worldwide.
Moon was first admitted to the intensive-care unit at St. Mary’s Hospital in Seoul in mid-August but was shifted to a church hospital after doctors said his kidneys had ceased to function and his liver was deteriorating rapidly.
“In these circumstances, the officials at St. Mary’s Hospital informed us that ‘there is no longer any way to improve True Father’s condition through modern medical technology’,” the church’s International Vice-President Joon Ho Seuk said last week.
The phrase “True Father” refers to Moon, who the church says is “the one and only messiah in human history”.
“He has overworked in recent months despite his age, having travelled to the US every month,” Moon’s spokesman told AFP, confirming his death.
The Unification Church — set up by Moon in Seoul in 1954 and officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification — is one of the world’s most controversial religious organisations.
The church, whose devotees are often dubbed “Moonies” after the founder, has been portrayed by critics as a cult that brainwashes followers — a charge it denies.
Its teachings are based on the Bible but with new interpretations that have been condemned as heretical by some Christian organisations.
It is widely known for conducting mass weddings among followers. In one of the most recent such gatherings, he gave “blessings” to thousands of couples from across the world in an event in South Korea in March this year.
The church says it evangelises in some 200 countries and the church’s vast business empire includes The Washington Times newspaper and the New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan.
Moon, who met North Korea’s then-ruler Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang in 1991, also has business interests there. A church-affiliated firm, Pyeonghwa (Peace) Motors, established a joint carmaking business in the North in 1999.
He had 14 children with his current wife and several are involved in his empire. Hyung Jin Moon, youngest of his seven sons, succeeded his father as the church’s most senior leader in 2008 at the age of 28.
Photo AFP/Segye Times/File