Members of the controversial Unification Church, famed for its mass weddings, were in mourning yesterday after the death of its founder, Sun Myung Moon.
Moon, the self-styled messiah from South Korea who built a business empire spanning cars to sushi, was taken to hospital with complications from pneumonia more than two weeks ago.
He died early yesterday at a hospital in the church's headquarters in Gapyeong, east of Seoul. He was 92.
Revered by his followers but denounced by critics as a cult-building charlatan who brainwashed church members, Moon was a deeply divisive figure whose shadowy business dealings saw him jailed in the United States.
The church claimed its members, known as Moonies by many, totalled three million at the time of his death, although some experts say numbers had fallen off sharply from its peak in the 1980s to several hundred thousand.
Flags flew at half-staff yesterday at a Unification church in Seoul. Followers trickled into the building, some wiping away tears. One woman bowed and cried before a copy of the church-owned Segye Times newspaper, which was placed on a table and had a large picture of Moon on its front page. Another woman bowed before a small statue of Moon and his wife.
"He was our father and God's messiah. His body was custom-made by God so we believed he would live until 100," Moon's close aide Bo Hi Pak said in Gapyeong. "Now with him gone to heaven, all of us are tremendously saddened."
Moon's body was transferred to the church's gargantuan white palace on Mount Cheonseong overlooking the lakes and wooded forests of Gapyeong County.
His funeral will take place on September 15 after a 13-day mourning period, with a massive new sports and cultural centre built recently on the church's sprawling campus accepting mourners from Thursday. Moon is to be buried on the Mount.
Followers left numerous grief-stricken messages of loss on the church's official website. "I feel like the sky is falling and the whole world has collapsed," wrote one.
At the movement's main church in Seoul, a handful of worshippers read a special edition of the church-affiliated newspaper on Moon's death.
Yamanaka Katsuyo, a Japanese follower who married a South Korean man at a mass wedding in Seoul in 1988, said she was devastated by the death of the man she credited with "changing my entire life".
Moon had 14 children with his second wife, Hak Ja Han. Hyung- jin Moon, the youngest of his seven sons, took over as the church's top leader in 2008 at the age of 28.
Agence France-Presse, Associated Press