I arrived in Seoul on Monday evening, February 1, five days before Blessing '99 was to begin at Olympic Stadium. My mission - to work with the 30-odd members of the foreign press stationed in Seoul. As soon as I stepped out of the airport in Seoul and felt a blast of Arctic air, my heart sank and I immediately had images of a half empty stadium with gale force winds buffeting brides dressed in down parkas. How were we going to pull off an outdoor Blessing in the middle of a Korean winter?
However, faith soon kicked in as I recalled feeling the same kind of dread just prior to Blessing '97 in RFK stadium, and miraculously, the weather wasn't so bad there after all. God exists and I decided to offer up the weather program to more able hands than mine.
Upon arriving at the elegant Lotte Hotel in downtown Seoul, I noticed several government cars parked in front and soon learned that True Parents and President Kim Dae-jung of Korea were inside celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Seyge Times. The lobby was swarming with our church leaders and Korean government officials. This was a great blessing for the Seyge Times and the first time President Kim appeared in public with our True Parents. He urged the Times to become a special bridge between Korea and the world and he praised Father's worldwide media network as being uniquely qualified to strengthen that bridge.
Robin Marsh, our brother who takes care of Public Affairs in Great Britain, soon arrived in Seoul to help with the foreign media. (I prefer 'international media' but they call themselves the 'foreign media'.) Robin had lived in Korea for two years and had a fairly good command of the language and knew how to get around in Seoul. Also, he had worked in Korea doing media relations during the 1992 Blessing. He proved to be an invaluable partner.
The next day we visited the Foreign Press Club which was only a fifteen minute walk from the hotel. Many of the 30 or so foreign media use this club/office as their base of operations and it became a good place to meet them. We took our newly created press packet for them and found several of them in and willing to talk. A few of them asked about Mike Breen, our church brother who had been in Seoul as a journalist for many years and was the former president of their press association. It was a great feeling to walk into an office full of journalists and immediately feel welcomed and respected. They all showed a great interest in attending the Blessing as well as the Special Convocation of the Fifth World Culture and Sports Festival that was taking place at the Lotte Hotel for four days.
At the Convocation's opening banquet, Father spoke from a prepared text and was introduced by Gen. Alexander Haig, Jr., the former Secretary of State under Reagan and the White House Chief of Staff under Nixon. Robin and I hosted a media table that was attended by about ten journalists, including those from the International Herald Tribune, Itar-Tass (Russian), Business Week, Time magazine, The Washington Times (Tokyo bureau), The Sydney Morning Herald and Diplomacy Magazine (Korean). There were also correspondents from Tiempos del Mundo and Czech Radio among the convocation participants.
Gen. Haig gave a moving introduction and tribute to Father, describing how their lives first intersected during the Korean war. Gen. Haig recalled how his regiment was among those which landed during the famous Inchon strike, and he continued to fight his way up to Hang Nam where his forces were able to help liberate the prison where Father was held.
He then praised Father for publicly calling for a more conciliatory approach to then President Richard Nixon during the Watergate crisis. Finally, he praised Father as one who dealt a decisive blow to communism, saying that it was not primarily the arms race which toppled the Soviet Empire, but rather the culture war which was fought on a number of educational and media fronts which was the deciding factor.
Two days later, Robin and I organized a press briefing by Gen. Haig in his hotel suite. It was well attended and when asked if he were a Unification Church member he replied, "No, but who couldn't be behind the values espoused here at this conference? It would be like being against motherhood."
Two days before the Blessing, the International Herald Tribune ran a story in the business section which drew attention to some of the financial problems of the Tongil business group. However, the headline said it all, "Rev. Moon Rises Above Ailing Businesses". For me, it was a testimony to Father's ability to go beyond the temporal problems which would cripple a lesser man.
Every day, Robin and I faxed out one or two Press Advisories, informing the media about what transpired the previous day and what was upcoming. These were very necessary. They not only served to keep the media's interest alive but also served as direct copy for some of the articles that were written.
The Special Convocation was a combined conference of leaders from the ten or so major Federations established by True Parents over the years. It drew over 400 guests from more than 100 countries. The highlight for me was the establishment of the new Inter-Religious and International Federation for World Peace, an organization dedicated to bringing the wisdom of the world's religions into the political policy-making arena.
Some of the major participants in the convocation were Arnaud De Borchgrave, the new head of UPI news service; Susan Ford Bales, the daughter of President Ford; Carmilla Anwar Sadat, daughter of the late Egyptian president; Hon. Albert Reynolds, the former Prime Minister of Ireland; and Hon. Edward R. Schreyer, former Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada.
There are two English-language newspapers originating in Korea, The Korea Times and the Korea Herald. On the Saturday before the Blessing, The Times wrote a short, objective article about the WCSF '99 and ran a nice photo of the Women's Federation for World Peace.
Working with the media in a 'foreign' country was challenging on many fronts, but the main hurdle to overcome was coordinating our message with the message that was coming out of the Korean UC headquarters. We had to get both messages to agree and when you're dealing with something as complicated as an international Blessing ceremony, there is a lot to work out. Whenever Robin and I needed to speak to Mr. Ahn, our brother who was working with the Korean media, we had to go through an interpreter. Fortunately, Mr. Ahn was patient and had his message well outlined, but needless to say there were times of exasperation.
On the Friday before the Blessing, the cold spell began to change and by Sunday the weather was like a spring day with plenty of sunshine! Robin and I (along with our superb new volunteer Peter Ross) arrived at the stadium around 11:00 am and began looking for couples that would be good subjects for interviews. A reporter from Agence France Press began the first interview of a Dutch sister currently living in England and her bridegroom, a Czech brother. They gave a very good interview and spoke from their hearts about how precious this day was for them. Soon, a television reporter from the BBC was in on the interview as well.
Much to my amazement, the cavernous Olympic Stadium quickly filled and by 1:45 there was standing room only. Almost everyone who wasn't dressed in formal bridal wear was wearing a wide, white blessing shawl, which gave a white, holy glow to the crowd. It was awesome and I felt as though I were looking at a glimpse of the Kingdom; the power of True Parents' foundation on earth was palpable.
Before the ceremony, Reuters television and Associated Press television interviewed me standing in front of the seated couples. They were short interviews of me explaining the purpose of the gathering.
Once the ceremony began, Robin and I mingled with the media behind the first section of couples who were arrayed in front of the stage. We just chatted with them and answered their questions. The ceremony was concise and powerful and as soon as it was finished BBC television asked me for an on-camera interview. The journalist asked me about the purpose of the ceremony and ended the interview by asking how Father could be a promoter of family values when it appears that at least some of his children have had some major problems to overcome. I explained that Father and Mother sacrificed personal time with their own children in order to realize their worldwide ministry, and as a result, their children suffered but were overcoming their problems.
Later that night at the closing banquet at the Little Angels' school, several journalists sat at our table and enjoyed a spectacular evening of ballet, speeches and gift-giving.
In closing, I can say that in the eyes of the public, the Blessing has become the defining event of the UC worldwide and it is an image which most people call to mind when they think of us. While this is not a negative image, we hopefully can move beyond this to become known for the result of the Blessing. namely strong families and extraordinary children. When the world truly knows us by our fruit, we will have accomplished what no public relations campaign could ever do, the resurrection of our True Parents' name.