"EL MINUTO DE DIOS” DOES NOT ONLY BIND BRICKS TOGETHER. IT IS EASIER TO BIND CLAY BRICKS TOGETHER THAN TO POLISH THE LIVING STONES WHICH ARE THE MEN WHO BUILD A COMMUNITY."
- F. Rafael García
Father Rafael García Herreros Unda was born in Cúcuta on January 17, 1909. He joined the Congregation of Jesus and Mary, whose members are known as Eudists, in 1932 and was ordained as a priest in Bogotá on August 19th, 1934. From 1934 to 1954, he dedicated himself to training seminarians throughout the country.
In 1955, Father Rafael turned his attention to the poor, slum eradication, and building homes in various neighborhoods throughout Bogota. In 1956, he founded the Minuto de Dios neighborhood in Bogota, which has since become a model for poverty eradication and received the praise of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
In 1958, Father Rafael secured the designation of “El Minuto de Dios Corporation” as a non-profit organization and dedicated it to the integral development of marginalized individuals and communities. Since 1958, El Minuto de Dios has either built or refurbished more than 70,000 homes.
As an evangelist and missionary, Father Rafael aimed to build a united and progressive Christian community. This allowed various apostolic movements to flourish in the community, such as the Charismatic Renewal.
In 1966, Father Rafael founded the “Minuto De Dios Museum of Contemporary Art” to support young artists and make art and culture accessible to individuals and families regardless of income. In 1971, he built the “Minuto De Dios Theatre”, signaling the emergence of the neighborhood as an educational and cultural village. The work required to bring about this positive transformation was praised as "a model of the future Colombia and a project of an ideal city."
Father Rafael’s career in social communication and interest in promoting the restoration of Christian values in the country led him to launch a radio station in Bogota. In addition to radio, he promoted the work of El Minuto de Dios through the oldest television program in the country that bears the same name as the organization.
His work eventually spread throughout the country, especially in times of need following natural disasters. In 1983, El Minuto de Dios collaborated with others in the reconstruction of Popayan. Two years later, Father Rafael led the Colombian response to the tragedy caused by the Ruiz volcano eruption. He also helped with the construction and social development in Lerida, Guayabal, and Chinchiná. In 1987, Father Rafael promoted a social response to the landslides in the Medellín neighborhoods of Villa Tina and Héctor Abad Gómez. In 1988, he led the response in the wake of the Sinu River flooding. In 1989, he opened the Barrio de las Reinas in Cartagena.
In 1956, Father Rafael initiated the establishment of schools in the outskirts of Bogota. In 1958, he founded “El Minuto de Dios School”. This school eventually led to the creation of 18 schools and seven kindergartens throughout the country and today services about 25,000 students. Additionally, in 1988, he founded the University Corporation Minuto de Dios to help foster the development of competent, ethical, and socially responsible professionals. Currently, the university system Uniminuto has a presence in 42 municipalities throughout Colombia and meets the educational needs of over 75,000 students. Those in attendance include technical, technological, professional, and graduate students.
Father Garcia Herreros supported the creation of the “Eudes Foundation” to help care for AIDS patients and HIV carriers.
In 1961, Father Rafael devised and performed the first Banquet of the Million. Promoted as "the richest and poorest dinner in the world", he used the event to collect resources to finance social works. The event proved so popular that it became a part of Colombian culture and is still held to this day. Father Rafael incessantly championed charity over the years and encouraged Catholics and Colombians to meet their social responsibility of caring for their needy compatriots.
Poor and generous, Father Rafael always lived in an atmosphere of simplicity. Although much money passed through his hands, he never reserved any for himself. His frugality and detachment from materialism allowed him to commit himself fully to helping others and transforming social structures in a manner consistent with the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.
Father Garcia Herreros died in the rectory of El Minuto de Dios, in Bogotá, on the night of November 24, 1992. Coincidentally, the 32nd Million Banquet was being held at the Hotel Tequendama at the time of his passing.
The priestly manner in which he lived his life was impeccable and unquestionable. His memory lives on to this day in the individuals, families, and communities he touched and those who still carry out and benefit from Father Rafael’s life work.