To Hanako Ikeno, it didn’t seem strange to pledge herself in marriage Saturday to a foreign man she’s known just a day in a football-field ceremony surrounded by 28,000 couples.
More than 20 years ago, her mother and father’s marriage also was arranged by the Rev. and Mrs. Sun Myung Moon, founders of the Unification Church.
“I’m thankful that God could pick my spouse. I trust him more than anybody else. More than myself,” said Ikeno, 19, of Milwaukee.
The Moons picked Keichi Kaneko, 19 of Japan, to be her husband. As the couple took vows Saturday in preparation for their marriage, her parents watched from the stands of Robert F. Kennedy Stadium and renewed their own wedding promises.
In all, 28,000 couples - most long married and 2,500 newly matched - paid $70 each to take part in Saturday’s marriage affirmation ceremony sponsored by the Unification Church, which believes cross-cultural matchmaking will help unite the world. The real weddings come later in separate legal ceremonies.
“We want to create God-centered families that will serve as examples of true love,” said the Rev. Moon, who refers to himself and his wife as the “true parents” of mankind, sent to finish Jesus Christ’s work.
Ranks of new brides and grooms in long white dresses and dark suits took up two-thirds of the football field once used by the Washington Redskins.
After the morning ceremony presided over by the Moons, the couples shared box lunches of chicken, rice, carrots, apples and small slices of wedding cake.
Married couples renewing their vows did not have to belong to the Unification Church and organizers promoted the event - called “Blessing ‘97” - as a non-denominational celebration of marriage and family.
Among those originally agreeing to take part who later dropped out were former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, and Camelia Anwar Sadat, daughter of the assassinated Egyptian President.
Whitney Houston, who had top-billing in a concert for a reported $1 million salary following Saturday’s blessing ceremony, canceled at the last minute, citing sudden illness.