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Unification Church member Anyi Mieke altered a friend’s wedding gown and bought a plane ticket to fly from Olympia, Wash., to D.C. for Saturday’s Unification Church mass wedding ceremony—before she had even found a husband. She decided to come on faith.

“I really wanted to marry Rev. Moon’s way,” says Mieke, who eventually met her husband a week before the ceremony, when he stopped his car in front of her flower stand.

“It’s not that I’m sure we love each other,” she says. “It’s that I know we’re very committed

to God.”

Mieke is wearing a floor-length white satin gown, a veil, and lace gloves. She looks lovely, alight with the glow that brides traditionally evince. We chat next to a few overflowing trash barrels and the neon lights of a snack bar at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. A sign above us reads “Sausage Pavilion.”

“This is a cosmic marriage,” she says. “I feel like I’m being embraced by a global heart.”

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I nod as she babbles on, although I don’t understand what she’s talking about, nor what would possess her to fly across the country to marry a near-stranger in a football stadium. I’ve been nodding and staring a lot since I pulled up to “Blessing ’97″—I’m worried something ineffable and corrosive is seeping in. I shake my head to snap myself out of it, thank the woman for her time, and bolt.

I’m taken by the sheer mass of “Blessing ’97,” the remarkable incongruity of the soon-to-be-joined hordes streaming through the turnstiles, the women dressed in white gowns beneath bulky winter coats. The bathrooms at RFK are filled with brides and their mothers applying the finishing touches to dresses and makeup. Outside, a guy with crooked teeth and a Polaroid camera around his neck is selling photographs of couples taken in front of a piece of fabric spray-painted with a psychedelic picture of an altar in fluorescent orange and green that he has hung on the fence.

When the ceremony begins, couples emerge from a doorway that slides open at the back of the stage. Dressed in white and pink robes, they cascade down the red-carpeted stairs and take their positions on either side. The Rev. Sun Myung Moon and his wife emerge from the doorway wearing enormous, preposterous crowns and step majestically down the stairs between the robed couples. The intent is clearly spiritual, but it reminds me of that “Beauty School Dropout” number in Grease, when Frankie Avalon, guardian angel to one of the Pink Ladies, descends a stairway accompanied by singers with silver curlers perched on their heads.

Following the blessing, things get a bit ugly when a few church officials throw flowers from the stage, apparently to symbolize the more traditional tossing of the bouquet. Demure brides dressed in white swarm the area, scrambling and clawing—some on all fours—just to get a few petals. For a moment, it’s as if the Redskins have returned to RFK for one last tilt. Master of ceremonies Neil Salonen tries to get things under control later when he starts a wave around the stadium. “We have an opportunity to do something here that you can only do if you get married in a stadium,” he says as he starts it off. It’s a good wave, too, but the MC can’t get the assembled to stop. Around and around it goes. Three, four, even five times, before the MC gives up trying to stop it.

I’m back to staring again when a guy next to me remarks that he, too, has never seen anything like this. Finally, I think, someone as baffled as me. Not exactly.

“It’s much bigger than my wedding back in ’82,” he says. Turns out this guy is a member of the church who is volunteering at the event. He tells me that he was wed to his wife at a mass marriage ceremony at Madison Square Garden in 1982. He pulls a picture of his wife and three plump kids from inside his coat. “We both had a vision and an ideal,” he says. “We made our marriage work. She’s a great mother.”

A schoolteacher from Jersey, the man was raised Catholic but says he joined the Unification Church when he was living in Germany in 1970. He’s a strong supporter of Moon and the religion, but not supportive enough, apparently, to reveal his name: “I’d rather not say.” He has plenty to say about Moon and the church, though: “We’ve lost the heroes of the ’60s. They’re gone. I think Moon is a champion. He’s beyond a hero.” He pauses to reflect and to take another bite of his boxed lunch, then adds, “I’ve gone fishing with Rev. Moon in Oregon.” I ask if Moon is a good fisherman, and the guy responds emphatically. “Oh yeah,” he says with a nod. “He’s caught every fish in the world.”CP