Interspersing warnings about Satan with speeches about politics, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon addressed an audience of 1,000 at the InterContinental Hotel in Phnom Penh on Sunday, inaugurating his Universal Peace Federation and pledging to succeed in the world where the UN has failed.
On a 100-city world tour to launch the new federation, the charismatic and controversial Korean founder of the Unification Church—a religion with millions of followers worldwide who are commonly known as “Moonies”—did not have the mass weddings for which his religion is famous on his mind.
“The United Nations, at its founding, proclaimed its mandate for world peace,” said Sun Myung Moon, whose followers generally consider him to be the new Messiah.
“It has dedicated itself to this task, and yet it has failed. The time has come to create a [new type of] United Nations that will set its course according to God’s will…. That’s why Reverend Moon has come to educate them,” he said.
The reverend told his audience—including 400 Thai followers who arrived on tour buses and hundreds of Cambodians who seemed to come out of curiosity—that “Satan’s dominion” was over.
He noted his connections to United Press International—the wire service led by a Unification clergyman—and the Washington Times newspaper, which Sun Myung Moon himself founded.
“I am in a power to deal with the world, even if they oppose it,” he said.
While some consider the Moonies to be a controversial cult, the reverend enjoyed endorsements from several senior government officials.
Constitutional Council member Son Soubert delivered a message from National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, calling Sun Myung Moon “a sterling example of civic-mindedness.”
And co-Minister of Interior Prince Norodom Sirivudh was on hand to laud the reverend’s cause, as well as his aid and education efforts in Cambodia, calling him a “dignitary.”
“I have joined the Universal Peace Federation to discuss about world peace and all activities of all the religions,” Prince Sirivudh said. “We know very clearly [Sun Myung Moon’s] great will and sacrifice for world peace.”
He finished by offering the reverend a Buddhist blessing for peace and longevity.
But Sun Myung Moon’s speech, which lasted more than an hour, took a different tack, referring repeatedly to the dilemma of original sin through the failings of Old Testament figures Adam and Eve, and to the disagreements of Cain and Abel.
A large number of Cambodians were in the audience, dressed in formal attire. They toasted with hundreds of tiny vials of the church’s wine to a blessing for “god-centered families,” but few in the audience said they understood what the event was all about.
Pol Ponleu, 23, said he was Buddhist but had attended at the invitation of Christian friends.
“I don’t understand much about the purpose of this conference, but I just read some letter and some interpretation that said Mr Moon is the person who created this idea. But I don’t know who he is or where he is from,” Pol Ponleu said. “This conference is to make all the people understand each other’s ideas, to unite for peace.”
Chhoun Say, a schoolteacher, said he was Christian but was uncertain of Moon’s affiliations.
But, he said, he could understand the message of peace.
“In Cambodia we have had many wars and there are killings and disputes among Cambodian leaders for a long time. So I think this conference is to show that we are peaceful,” he said.
Despite the large turnout, Universal Peace Federation staff member Sela Keo, 20, estimated that the church only draws about 50 regular followers in Cambodia.
He said it has been active in the country since 1992 and holds prayers each weekend.
A handful of followers have expressed interest in a mass wedding scheduled for December in South Korea, in which Cambodians can participate via satellite, staff said.
But the religion’s message is still a tough sell in Cambodia, Sela Keo admitted.
“It’s a bit hard because Christians have a sense of living for the sake of others. But Cambodia is a poor country, so people who cannot even support themselves cannot give something to someone else,” he said.