for interfaith effort
By LINDA CONNER LAMBECK
BRIDGEPORT -- The Rev. Sun Myung Moon joked Tuesday about his age, talked lightheartedly about his days in a Danbury prison and promised the state would be blessed if its citizens follow his teachings.
Speaking before 1,200 at a University of Bridgeport rally, he asked, "Who loves UB more than I do?" before launching into a prepared speech. "I believe all UB faculty members must have met me at least once unless you were just hired yesterday."
Moon's Unification Church, an organization some believe to be a cult, is a major benefactor of the university.
Moon appeared before the crowd in Mertens Theater as part of a 50-day, 50-state interfaith tour he's helping spearhead to promote family values. Many in the crowd said they were Unification members.
But appearing with Moon were a host of other clergymen, including several from the area. They were drawn to the program by an award ceremony and a seminar, held earlier in the day, on the Bush administration's new Faith-Based Initiative grant program.
Moon, 81, spoke mostly in Korean, with a translator, but was animated and occasionally broke into English.
He said when he was incarcerated on tax-law violations in Danbury's federal prison several years ago, he prayed for the future of this country.
The tour, called "We Will Stand," is sponsored by the American Clergy Leadership Conference. It began Sunday at a church in the Bronx.
Sharing the stage with Moon in Bridgeport was the Rev. Walter Fauntroy, of Washington, D.C., who said this is the most important conference happening today in the world.
"[Moon] may be an issue for some, but increasingly people are looking beyond who sponsors to what's being addressed," he said. "I would have thought that a few years ago. Not today."
The tour, said Joy Garratt, a program spokesman, is an effort to rebuild the family, because good families build good communities and a better country. Fliers advertising Moon's Bridgeport appearance were distributed across the UB campus, but university spokesman Chris Corcoran said the event was not sponsored by the university.
"We're just renting the space," he said, adding he did not know what the fee was.
"The University of Bridgeport is honored to have him choose our campus as his site for his Connecticut appearance," said Corcoran. He said Moon last came to campus over the summer.
The Professors World Peace Academy, an organization funded by Moon, has supplied the university with about $100 million since 1992, when the school faced bankruptcy and nearly closed. In exchange, the PWPA was indefinitely allowed to name 60 percent of the university's Board of Trustees. Neil Salonen, a high-ranking member of the church, is now the university's president.
Corcoran estimates a little less than 10 percent of full-time students at UB are members of the church. He added about 10 church members are on staff.
Before the evening program, a group of about 25 clergy, including some from the Unification Church, attended a seminar to explain how to tap into George W. Bush's $23.9 billion Faith-Based Initiatives program, which Bush mentioned in his speech Tuesday night.
The Faith-Based initiatives' office was established last month in the White House to help religious organizations address alcoholism, drug addiction, homelessness and other social ills.
"It's encouraging that faith is being recognized as a factor in addressing drugs and social crises," said David Caprara, president of the American Family Coalition, a group affiliated with the Unification Church, who spoke at the seminar.
"There are no specific applications for faith-based grants from the church per se," he said.
Carl Hardwick, director of the Hartford Youth Peace Initiative, also spoke, as did a representative of Action for Bridgeport Community Development.
Garratt said the faith-based initiatives seminar was arranged by local organizers of the We Will Stand program. Members included Bishop Robert Stallings, of New Haven; Bishop Errell Skyers, of the Shiloh Apostolic Church in Bridgeport; Rev. George Minty DeKock of New Haven and Rev. Chris Hempowicz, of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, all of whom met with Moon before the program.
Linda Conner Lambeck, who covers regional education issues, can be reached at 330-6218.
Connecticut Post incorporates The Bridgeport Post,
The Telegram and The Valley Sentinel