Unification Church: a global religious movement

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The mother of the man accused of murdering Japan's former prime minister Shinzo Abe belonged to the Unification Church, the global religious movement founded in Korea said Monday.

Police say Tetsuya Yamagami targeted Abe because he believed the politician was linked to an unnamed organisation, with media reports saying the suspect blamed his mother's donations to the organisation for the family's bankruptcy.

Here are some details about the Unification Church, famed for its mass weddings and business connections:

What is the Unification Church?

Known officially as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, the church was founded in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon, after he was rejected by mainstream Protestant churches.

Its members are sometimes nicknamed "Moonies".

Moon, born to a farming family in what is now North Korea, saw his role as completing the unfulfilled mission of Jesus to restore humanity to a state of "sinless" purity.

Rapid early recruitment saw the church's membership swell from an initial group of 100 missionaries to around 10,000 in just a few years.

By the time of Moon's death in 2012, the church, whose teachings are based on the Bible with new interpretations, claimed to have about three million followers.

Where are they active?

Some experts say membership has fallen sharply from a peak in the 1980s to several hundred thousand.

The Japan chapter was founded in 1959 as the church sent missionaries to Japan and the United States in the late 1950s, cultivating business-minded members.

For decades the organisation has been known for its mass weddings, often held in giant sports stadiums with thousands of couples often unknown to each other.

Moon moved to the United States in the early 1970s, and was indicted on tax evasion charges in 1981. He was convicted and served 11 months in prison.

Who was the founder?

Revered by his followers but denounced by critics as a cult-building charlatan, Moon was a deeply divisive figure.

Born in 1920, Moon studied engineering at a high school in Tokyo, and said he had a vision aged 15 in which Jesus asked him to complete his work on Earth.

He made his first world tour in 1965, going on to acquire a business empire that encompassed construction, food, education, the media and even, at one point, a professional football club.

By some counts, he had 14 children with his wife Hak Ja Han, who now controls the church.

Their youngest son, Hyung Jin Moon, succeeded his father as the church's most senior leader in 2008, but after a falling-out with his mother formed his own breakaway sect, the Sanctuary Church.

What were Abe's links to the church?

Groups affiliated with the church have secured addresses from powerful speakers over the years, including former president Donald Trump.

Abe had spoken to events organised by affiliated groups, and received some criticism for doing so.

Last year, a group of Japanese lawyers filed a letter of protest after he delivered a video message to one event with a church-affiliated group.

The lawyers, who defend people who say they lost money because of the church, also protested when Abe sent a telegram to a mass wedding of the church's followers in 2006.

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