Meet Jasmine! And her new pod, “Sacred Scandal: Nation of Saints”
Jun 21, 2024
Season 9

Meet Jasmine! And her new pod, “Sacred Scandal: Nation of Saints”

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A very Uncomfortable podcast about immigration, civil war and unsolved murders.

Do you listen carefully to our credits every week? Then you might’ve heard of our “silent contributor,” Jasmine Romero, who has been editing “This Is Uncomfortable” for the past year and a half. And all along, she’s also been working on another podcast of her own, “Sacred Scandal: Nation of Saints.” It’s a show with a lot of Uncomfortable themes — immigration, family secrets and how money messes with politics — that TIU listeners are sure to appreciate.

We’re sharing the first episode of Jasmine’s new pod, and to tee it up, Reema sits down with Jasmine to talk about how she reported this deeply personal story about the Salvadoran Civil War, the assassination of a beloved archbishop, and an unsolved murder in her own family. Reema and Jasmine reflect on how the show connects to current news events, and they bond over the challenges of interviewing their own parents, as Reema did for our recent episode, “A conversation with Baba.

If you liked this episode, share it with a friend. And subscribe to our newsletter for more Uncomfortable stories you won’t hear on the podcast, and recommendations from our team to make your money — and your life — better. If you missed it, here’s the latest issue.

If you want to tell us what you thought about the episode or anything else, email us at uncomfortable@marketplace.org or fill out the form below.









[TIU Sting]

Reema Khrais: Hello, Jasmine. How’s it going?

Jasmine Romero: Hi, Reema. How are you?

Reema: I’m good. I’m good. Um, so the reason we’re talking right now is because you have a new podcast out that we’re sharing with our listeners today called Sacred Scandal, Nation of Saints. But before we get into that, can you just introduce yourself to folks? Because they’ve heard your name in the credits, but this might be the first time they’ve heard your voice.

Jasmine: Yeah, I’m like the secret contributor to the show. I’m like always lurking in the credits. I’m Jasmine Romero. I am a freelance writer, editor, podcaster, and I also get to edit This is Uncomfortable, which is amazing. It’s my favorite thing. 

Reema: Yeah, you’ve been our editor now for about a year and a half. And I love that we’re turning the mic now and we get to hear from you and your show that you’ve been working on for the last couple of years, called “Nation of Saints.” Can you just, yeah, talk a little bit about it, tell us what it’s about?

Jasmine: Yeah, um so “Sacred Scandal: Nation of Saints” came out of being the child of immigrants. I’m the first person in my family to be born in the U.S. And, um, I grew up in South Central L.A. I knew that we were from El Salvador, but I never really understood why my parents left. And I think as a child of immigrants, you always have this sort of lingering question of: why am I here and not there?

Reema: Mmhmm.

Jasmine: What brought my family here? Um, and, and how do I understand my identity as a person who is split between two places? And so I started interviewing my family, and it brought me to the story of this man named Oscar Romero, who was a priest in my family’s hometown in San Miguel, who became the Archbishop of El Salvador and was murdered on the pulpit, and who really, you know, that event sort of kick started the whole Salvadoran Civil War that lasted for 12 years. A war that still has echoes that we’re living today. And, um, it was really eye opening and wild. Um, but I talked to people who were in every part of the Civil War: I talked to priests who were leaving their parishes in the middle of the night and like hiding in people’s barns, who had death threats on their lives.

Reema: Jeez!

Jasmine: I talked to the sister of a man who was a death squad leader. 

Reema: Wow!

Jasmine: I talked to colonels in the army. I talked to child soldiers. And I also talked to my family and got to the bottom of a murder that’s in my own family, that has been sort of unresolved all this time and connects back to this larger story of these religious murders. So it really, it was just an incredible journey, and I feel like I understand my family and myself a lot better now. 

Reema: Yeah, it’s really special. And this is something we’ve also connected over a lot these last several months because, uh, you know, obviously you worked with me on the episode that I did with my dad, “A conversation with Baba,” about our family’s relationship with Gaza. And it makes me really think about how there’s so many outside forces that deeply influence the trajectory of our lives, in these like profound ways, right? Like socially, economically, this decision to relocate a family, an entire life, has a huge impact on the economic opportunities the members of that family will have, which is something we’ve explored on this show, “This Is Uncomfortable.” And at the same time, you can go years, you can have an entire childhood, and… without these things ever being acknowledged or talked about, oftentimes because it’s too painful to reopen the wounds. Um, and so that, that really resonated with me, and I’m curious what it was like for you to report on such a personal story?

Jasmine: Yeah, I knew going into it it was going to be hard, and it was way harder than I thought it was gonna be, because it was so personal. I got to talk to my grandmother, my mom, my aunt. You know, you try to mentally prepare yourself for stories that you know that are going to be hard, but, um, there’s just something different about interviewing someone and looking at their face and seeing your own face in their face. 

Reema: Oh yeah. And also when you just haven’t had those conversations with them before, and you start seeing them in a different light.

Jasmine: Yeah, one of the weird things that has happened, um, from making this show is that I feel like I can now like see through the matrix, and I can see like patterns in history that repeat, and I feel like I can’t look at current events without seeing the past written all over them. 

Reema: Yeah.

Jasmine: You know, there’s the cliche of like history repeats itself, um, and I think there’s this inclination for people to always feel like what’s happening now is unique to this moment and, uh, but it really isn’t.  

Reema:  Yeah, that was definitely one of my takeaways when I listened to that first episode, just how, well I hope it encourages people, to your point, to really connect the dots and see how these global tragedies, the violence, the pursuit of power, in the name of safety, all of this is just, is repeated over and over. And like you said, we’re seeing it in real time right now. So, it’s very timely. Alright, I hope you all enjoy this episode and check out the rest of the season. You can listen to “Sacred Scandal” on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you get your podcasts. Anything else, Jasmine?

Jasmine: No, I just, uh, thank you for having me.

Reema: Yeah. Thanks for, uh, being our editor and doing this wonderful show. [laughter] All right. Here’s Jasmine’s show, “Nation of Saints.”

 

[NATION OF SAINTS]

Warning: This episode contains references to extreme violence. Please use discretion when listening. 

 

“The past is never dead; it isn’t even past.” – William Faulkner

 

JASMINE VO: Down a winding road on the west side of the city of San Salvador, there’s a peaceful little hideaway: the grounds covered with palm trees, snake plants, and flowering bougainvilleas. It’s a small hospital. A hospice, really, where cancer patients go to live out their last days. 

It was here that Oscar Romero, a quiet man with an easy smile and some seriously enviable eyebrows, made his home.  

It’s an odd choice. Oscar’s not sick. And he’s supposed to be living in the heart of downtown. Because Oscar is one of the most important people in El Salvador. He’s the Archbishop – the highest ranking priest in a country so Catholic, it’s named after Jesus. 

And on a muggy march afternoon in 1980, Oscar Romero gathered a group of worshippers to the hospital’s chapel, to commemorate the life of a local grandmother. 

Oscar Romero: Ser cristiano sabemos que en este momento se convierte en el cuerpo del Señor que se ofreció por la redención del mundo, y quien en ese chalice el vino, se transforme en la sangre, que fue el precio de la salvación, que es cuerpo igualado y esta sangre sacrificada de los hombres. 

JASMINE VO: It’s a ceremony he’s done thousands of times. He steps up to the pulpit, and performs the rituals of mass. He blesses the wine, turning it into the blood of christ. He prepares the eucharist, the gift of the flesh. Outside, a red Volkswagen has pulled up to the entrance of the church. There are two men in the car. There’s no way to know if Oscar saw them. But the street is only about 40 paces away from the pulpit. I think that he must have seen them. 

Oscar Romero: Nuestro cuerpo y nuestra sangre al sufrimiento y al dolor como Cristo no para sí, sino para dar por cierto la justicia y de paz para su pueblo. un lado, te van a buscar la oración por doña Sarita y por nuestro dios.

JASMINE VO: Oscar raises a chalice high above his head, lifting it up to God. And mid sentence.

(Archival: The sound of a single bullet fired at Oscar Romero echoing… Those in attendance screaming and scattering)

JASMINE VO: He’s shot, with a single bullet, through the heart. 

Oscar Romero died that day. Killed by a .22 caliber bullet. The bullet fragmented inside of him, destroying everything it touched. It sent a message.

Because Oscar’s killing wasn’t just an act of murder. It was an act of war. An attack against the Catholic Church itself and in turn, the people of El Salvador. 

Oscar would go on to become one of the world’s most beloved saints. There’s even a statue of him in Westminster Abbey, next to a statue of Martin Luther King. But to become that saint, Oscar had to sacrifice his life. His death marked the start of one of the darkest times in Salvadoran history: The Civil War. 

A war would leave more than 75 thousand people dead, and send a million more across the globe, fleeing the violence. My family includes both: Those that fled and those that died. 

When I started working on this story, I wanted to find out what really happened to Oscar Romero. Who was responsible for his murder, and all the violence that followed. Were the same forces that killed Oscar Romero the ones that brought death to my family’s doorstep?  

I’m Jasmine Romero, and this is Sacred Scandal Season 3 – Nation of Saints. This is episode 1: “OSCAR.” 

[music]

JASMINE VO: Okay, let’s get one thing out of the way. My last name is Romero but I’m not related to Oscar Romero. I think. I’m pretty sure. Well, I asked my parents and they’re pretty sure, but I guess it’s possible. Romero is an extremely common name in El Salvador. 

In 1981, my parents fled from El Salvador with my three older sisters to Los Angeles. Los Angeles has the largest population of Salvadorans of any place outside of El Salvador.  

It’s also where I was born. I grew up going to Macarthur Park on Saturdays to watch my dad play soccer. The field would be lined with other immigrant families like mine, eating elotes and trying to start over. But the ghost of Oscar Romero was everywhere. There’s a  statue of him in that same park. And just up the street is a clinic named after him. Los Angeles is covered in murals of his face. But in my family, Oscar Romero really wasn’t a topic of discussion. 

 

Maria Hinojosa: Mis Guatelmaltecos, Mis Hondurenos. Central America has been transformational because of the politics. 

Marcella Arguello: Yeah

 

JASMINE VO: A few years ago, I went to this event in LA. There was this Salvadoran comedian with this big tattoo on her arm. The host complimented her on it. 

 

Maria Hinojosa: Her arm has got the most beautiful tattoo I have ever seen in my life. And it is of the Arzobispo Arnulfo Romero, on her arm.

 

JASMINE VO: They started talking about the war. And the meaning of Oscar Romero’s life. I remember feeling embarrassment wash over me. These two strangers knew more about the history of my family’s homeland than I did. 

My parents never talked much about El Salvador, or the reasons that they left. Growing up, we were so concerned with surviving the present, there wasn’t much room to consider the past. 

But I also had never really made the effort to ask: What horrors did my family experience that made them leave a place they truly love? Who was the man on those murals?  And If I really wanted the answers, I knew where I needed to go. 

 

Jasmine:  So, it’s 1:40 in the morning. I’m at JFK, and I’m waiting to board my flight to El Salvador. My parents are going to pick me up when I get there, and I’m very sleepy. 

<<TRANSITION TO SFX OF PLANE TAKING OFF>>

 

JASMINE VO: A few years ago my parents shocked the entire family by moving back to El Salvador to retire. They used their life’z savings to build a little house in their hometown, San Miguel. 

 

[AMBI: Bienvenidos a El Salvador, hemos llegado a tiempo… ]

 

JASMINE VO: I’ve been to El Salvador a handful of times. Mostly when I was a kid. But ten years have passed since my last visit. Looking around the plane, everyone’s faces look like mine, but I still feel like an outsider, stepping into a world that doesn’t belong to me. 

 

[AMBI]

 

JASMINE VO:I grabbed my bags, and headed out into the humid air to look for my parents. They were thrilled I was coming, even if it was for work. 

Jasmine: Hola! Buenos dias! Hi mama. Hi daddy. Ah con la camisa del Hangar. 

JASMINE VO: My dad was holding up a handwritten sign that said “JASMINE ROMERO” in capital letters. It was written on the inside of a pizza box, so I’m guessing they got hungry while they were waiting. My mom just hugged me for a long time. 

They both looked relaxed, which was nice and confusing. If you grew up with immigrant parents, you know what I mean. 

As we walked to my dads old pickup truck, my mom kept pointing out how nice and new things look. 

 

[AMBI: walking through the airport with Mom talking about new airport]

 

JASMINE VO: The last time I landed at this airport, it had a different name. It’s now called Oscar Arnulfo Romero International, in honor of the dead archbishop. It feels like everywhere you look, there are signs of change, of a new era. The terminal I flew into was only a year old. There’s new pavement on the sidewalks, new tar in the parking lot.

Leaving the airport, we drive through a forest of palm trees, past tall billboards welcoming tourists to explore “The New El Salvador.” Ads for swanky new resorts at “Surf City” beach, or day camps for zip-lining in the rainforest. 

But just past those billboards? There are rows and rows of little roadside shacks. People selling fresh coconuts, bags of water for a quarter, and souvenir machetes – the tool of choice for the countries working poor.

El Salvador is still a “developing nation,” which just means that most of the population is living in poverty. The average Salvadoran makes $400 a month. It’s even less than that in more remote cities, like San Miguel, where my family and Oscar Romero’s family both come from. Poverty is something both of our families knew very well. 

Oscar Romero was one of eight kids – just like my dad. My mom is one of nine. Both my parents were raised in homes where the floor wasn’t made out of wood or tile, it was dirt. My dad didn’t even own a pair of shoes until he was fifteen. 

This is all on my mind as we make the long drive back to San Miguel. To visit two of my tias, my aunts. There are constant reminders that this level of poverty is still very much a reality here in The New El Salvador. 

 

[AMBI: Hola! Y tu como te llamas? Como? Ken!]

 

JASMINE VO: My Tia rents a place on the outskirts of San Miguel with one of my cousins and her young son, whose name I finally learn is Ken. The house is made of cement blocks, with a tin roof. There are extra pieces of tin leaned up against the house. She’s saving up to install them over the patio. As we settle into plastic chairs my Tia set out for us, a herd of cows passes by. Ken waves.

 

KEN: moo! Moo tete!

 

JASMINE VO: My tia also takes care of my great-aunt, my godmother, Tia Pazita. Who I haven’t seen since I was a little girl.  My Tia Pazita is 89 years old, and so thin, it feels like she’ll snap if I hug her too hard. She’s almost completely blind, and she’s hard of hearing too. It takes a minute for her to recognize me, but when she does…

 

TIA PAZ: Usted es Jasmine? Si! Me acuerdo cuando íbamos a la iglesia mija

 

JASMINE VO: She smiles a toothless grin and wraps her frail arms around me. She can’t believe how big I’ve gotten. I put her hand on top of my head, to show her how tall I am. 

 

JASMINE: Ahora estoy bien Grande

 

JASMINE VO: We all start talking, catching up. It all feels cozy and familiar. 

 

JASMINE: Aqui me siento a su ladito Tia Paz

 

JASMINE VO: I snuggle in next to my Tia Paz and we reminisce about the last time she saw me. I don’t have any memory of these events, but the stories are familiar. The time that I broke my wrist. The time I gave her my moms purse as a present. Walking to church together. Finally, I tell her that I’m here to learn about Oscar Romero.

 

JASMINE: Y tía, usted recuerda cuando mataron a monseñor Romero, ay, para allá se pone bastante. Qué recuerda de eso 

TIA PAZ: de muchas cosas porque él era el el señor obispo de ahí de de la iglesia.

JASMINE: Y entonces usted lo conoció.

TIA PAZ: Sí, que nosotros platicamos con él. 

 

JASMINE VO: To my surprise, she starts talking about him like an old friend. She tells me that she remembers going to see him preach. Which makes sense. For 23 years, Oscar Romero was the local priest in San Miguel. Her priest. San Miguel is where he got his start in the Catholic Church. But I had no idea my family actually knew him. 

 

JASMINE: Cómo era? Cómo era el monseñor romera romero era, era callado.

TIA PAZ: Era era callado. El alto de de Juan tenía alto. Estaba alto. Sí. Y bien respetable.

JASMINE: Sonreía mucho?

TIA PAZ: Ahí. Quién nos respetaba ese padre

 

JASMINE VO: She tells me that she remembers him being tall, like my dad, who is about 6’2. That he was the kind of priest you could talk to about anything. That she often went to him for advice. I can hear the affection in her voice. It’s a strange feeling, to realize that my family was so close to such an important historical figure. It’s like finding out your dad played little league with JFK. 

But being a local priest was the vast majority of Oscar’s life. For most of his career, he just did the normal things a parish priest does: attend funerals, perform baptisms, and maybe the occasional exorcism? Well, maybe not that last part. Who knows? In El Salvador, the local priest is an integral part of the community. He is who you go to when you’re having a problem. And that’s who Oscar Romero was in San Miguel. 

I keep asking my Tia Pazita questions, but she starts to get tired. As I’m taking her inside to rest, she mumbles something that makes my stomach turn. 

 

TIA PAZ: el castigo que le dieron lo mandaron para San salvador, allá fue que la de de él. Pues Aya fue que, fue la Ruina de el  

 

JASMINE VO: What a punishment they gave him, she says. Going to the capital was his ruin. It was in the capital that he gave his last misa, before being shot down. 

 

[snippet of Tape of last misa]

 

JASMINE VO: We’ll be right back, after this break. 

 

——————BREAK——————–

 

JASMINE VO: Being in this cozy house, it’s easy to see how San Miguel could make you forget about the troubles of the world. It has a small town quality to it, isolated from the politics of the capital. Maybe that’s why some of the richest Salvadorans have estates out here. I didn’t even know there were rich Salvadorans when I was kid, and now I’m learning a lot about this hidden world my parents never told me about.

 

[CAR AMBI] 

 

JASMINE VO: On the drive home, I ask my parents about something I came across in my research: The 14 families.

 

JASMINE: ustedes saben que de las 14 familias de aquí de Salvador.  

 

JASMINE VO: The 14 families. They say, they’re the owners.

 

DAD: Eran los dueños. 

JASMINE: Los duenos de qué? 

DAD: De las ciudades supuestamente. Lo más millonario. 

Mom: Eran duenos de tierras aqui 

 

JASMINE VO: It’s what Salvadorans call La Oligarchia: the Oligarchy. The rich land owning families who have run the country since the late 1800s. These families are the “terratenientes” – the landowners that control most of the country’s wealth. These families became fabulously wealthy by owning plantations that cultivated coffee, cotton and corn.

These families owned the stores, and the goods that filled the stores, and the land that the goods were grown on. Meanwhile, the campesinos who worked on those plantations lived in abject poverty. 

 

MARISSA: Los salarios eran verdaderamente increíblemente injustos.

 

JASMINE VO: This is Marissa de Martinez. She invited me to her home in the capital, and we spent an afternoon sitting in rocking chairs and talking about her work keeping Oscar Romero’s legacy alive. She’s an activist who protested the unfair treatment of the working class in the 70s, and the co-founder of the Oscar Romero Foundation. Because what happened to Oscar Romero, and the history of the working class in El Salvador, they kinda go hand in hand. 

 

MARISSA: andaban por los cinco o seis colones diarios y eso así pues, que la población, sobre todo campesina, que en esa época era mayoritaria, eh, vivieran en una pobreza, eh? Una pobreza insultante. 

 

JASMINE VO: In the 70’s, when Oscar Romero was serving in San Miguel, the majority of the country lived this way, living in an insulting poverty. Campesinos made less than a dollar a day. Most families suffered from malnutrition. Including mine. My great grandmother, who helped raise me, had 14 kids. Only 6 of them survived past 6 months. That’s the kind of malnutrition we’re talking about here. 

For many families, the only option to survive was to buy things on credit. Credit they got from their own bosses…. The plantation owners.

 

MARISSA: Le daban crédito a aquellos que estaban anotados. A mí me impresionaba ver la fila de gente el día que pagaban en la hacienda la fila de gente frente a la tienda, pagando la deuda, les quedaban al final unos 15. Entonces era una una vuelta de no salir de eso, verdad? 

 

JASMINE VO: It was a never ending cycle: Most campesinos never learned to read, and because there were no schools, neither did their children. They lived at the mercy of the plantation owners… for generations.

 

MARISSA: Lo que vi fue eso, lo que lo que significa una pobreza, eh, causada por la injusticia.

 

JASMINE VO: And these rich, oligarchic families didn’t just control the country’s wealth. They also were deeply involved in the Catholic Church. By “involved,” I mean controlling.

Now, the relationship between the wealthy and the church didn’t start in El Salvador. They have been intertwined since the first gold bar was delivered to Vatican City. But the relationship in El Salvador was particularly tight.

It was a well-oiled system: the country’s rich would provide lavish donations to the church, and in return the church would turn a blind eye to the systemic injustice. Priests would tell the poor “Your reward is waiting for you in heaven.” But in the 70’s, some priests dared to break this protocol. That’s after the break.

[MUSIC]

JASMINE VO: Padre Benito Tobar is one of the priests who dared to step outside the established oligarchy-church relationship. I met him on a sweltering afternoon at his parish in Montserrat, a suburb in the hills around San Salvador. 

 

TOBAR: Ya lo atienden a usted?  Sí, mucho gusto. Mucho gusto. Ya este allí a la oficina o por la entrevista? Yo le hablé entrevista. De qué? Perdón con tanta cosa que tenemos aquí, señor romero. 

 

JASMINE VO: He’s about 80 years old, with a thin sheet of white hair and a twinkle in his eye. He invites me and my fixer Roberto into his cramped office in the back of the church. On his desk a picture of him as a young man, smiling next to a somber Oscar Romero.

 

JASMINE: Este es usted?

TOBAR: Era…

 

JASMINE VO: It’s 90 degrees with 60% humidity. I’ve already sweat through two shirts. But Padre Tobar, he seems totally unfazed by the heat. He offers me and Roberto some ice water as we settle in. Roberto asks, “Don’t you need some water?” But Padre Tobar just smiles. 

 

TOBAR: No es que yo no toma agua

JASMINE: qué toma

TOBAR: Coca cola. 

 

JASMINE VO: The old man’s got swag. Anyway, when Padre Tobar became a priest in the early 70’s, the church was still doing what it had been doing since the Spaniards landed on the shores of a place called Cuzcatlán and decided to rename it after Jesus: keeping their pact with the rich and the poor in their place.   

 

TOBAR: Los campesinos por allá, cada quien en su lugar. Con sus cosas buenas y malas. Los pobres sufriendo hambre, maltratos de la guardia del ejército, Y los ricos, por otro lado, viviendo su historia. 

 

JASMINE VO: And this is where Oscar Romero comes back into the picture. Because while my Tia Paz might remember him as a man who knew the troubles of the poor, he didn’t have that reputation among the country’s elites.

 

TOBAR: Era muy conocido y estimado entre la gente de plata de San Miguel y algunos dejan salvador.      

 

JASMINE VO: For the rich families in San Miguel, Oscar was the ideal priest. Quiet, shy – happy to baptize their babies and enjoy a good carne asada with them afterward. 

 

TOBAR: él era muy espiritualista en el sentido negativo, la palabra va solo oración, hablar de la virgen María, no cosas malas. Pues verdad? Pero una fe sin dimensión humana sin dimensión política, sin dimensión, eh, sacerdotal, etcétera, verdad?

 

JASMINE VO: Oscar was regarded as a gentle bookworm. And this unassuming nature, it got him far. He quietly rose through the ranks from deacon to priest to bishop of San Miguel, far from the politics in the capital. If he disagreed with the elite’s business practices, he didn’t share it out loud. Maybe he wrote about it in his journal. Maybe he prayed on it.

But Oscar’s easy life in San Miguel would soon get flipped upside down. In 1977 Oscar’s boss – a man who’d served as Archbishop of El Salvador for 38 years – decided to resign.

But who would be next? The church and the oligarchy came together to hand-pick the country’s next top priest. The obvious and expected candidate was the auxiliary archbishop, who had been second in command. But to everyone’s surprise, the Vatican announced that Oscar Romero would take the position. The nation turned their eyes to this quiet priest from the east. 

 

TOBAR:  los derriba, ven las conveniencias, digamos, de feo religiosa en la iglesia, pero son conveniencias políticas final, verdad? 

 

JASMINE VO: It was a politically convenient move. Oscar was known as a quiet local priest — the kind who built his career on staying away from controversy. 

In February of 1977 Oscar Romero was named Archbishop of El Salvador by Pope John Paul himself. 

 

TOBAR: Entonces  eso fue la llegada de monseñor romero.

 

JASMINE VO: Oscar moves to the capital, his new parish and starts leading Sunday mass in the largest Cathedral in the country. The rich pat themselves on the back for assigning a priest they believe will watch over their interests for decades to come. Here’s Marissa again

 

Marissa de Martinez: La oligarquía la le aplaude porque no nombraron al que se suponía debía asumir el arzobispado 

 

JASMINE VO: But Oscar was stepping into a hornets nest. There was unrest brewing in the capital and several protests by campesino groups. People were unionizing, demanding better wages. The military government’s response had not been pretty. 

[ARCHIVAL TAPE]

Marissa de Martinez: Desgraciadamente, en esa época, cuando salían en sus marchas, solicitando pacíficamente que a los campesinos, además de darles un cucharón de frijol, dos tortillas les aumentaran, no sé, tres, cuatro onzas de queso y un huevo eran ametrallados aquí, San salvador por la guardia nacional.

 

JASMINE VO: Marissa says that the campesinos would organize marches in the capital, asking for better wages. Those protests regularly ended with the military shooting directly into the crowd.

 

[ARCHIVAL – Gov shoots at protestors] 

 

JASMINE VO: And when the protests didn’t stop, the military started going after the leaders of the movements. People started disappearing. 

Oscar Romero had a habit of going out into the congregation after mass on Sundays. He wanted to get to know the people of his flock, the way he had in San Miguel. But here, in the capital, people were coming to him with names. The names of sons, brothers, mothers, who had disappeared, or had been taken. Oscar had gone from baptizing babies, to having to face the cries of mourning mothers. 

In the span of a few years, Oscar transformed, from a quiet bookworm into a champion for the poor. 

Three years after his arrival to the capital, he stood before his congregation as a changed man. Not a puppet – but a priest with a message. 

 

Oscar Romero: Hermanos, son de nuestro mismo pueblo, matan a sus mismos hermanos campesinos y ante una orden de matar que dé un hombre, debe de prevalecer la Ley de Dios que dice: NO MATAR… 

 

JASMINE VO: He gave a speech that cemented his legacy. It’s a speech that’s the Salvadoran equivalent of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream. ” 

 

Oscar Romero: Ningún soldado está obligado a obedecer una orden contra la Ley de Dios… Una ley inmoral, nadie tiene que cumplirla… 

 

JASMINE VO: Oscar was issuing a warning – a warning to the rich, that he would not be in their pockets.

 

Oscar Romero: Ya es tiempo de que recuperen su conciencia y que obedezcan antes a su conciencia que a la orden del pecado… Queremos que el Gobierno tome en serio que de nada sirven las reformas si van teñidas con tanta sangre… 

 

JASMINE VO: This speech would be the landmark of his career. In it, he tells the government soldiers to disobey the order of their commanders. To stop the repression against their own people, and follow God’s most basic command: Thou shall not kill. 

 

Oscar Romero: En nombre de Dios, pues, y en nombre de este sufrido pueblo cuyos lamentos suben hasta el cielo cada día más tumultuosos, les suplico, les ruego, les ordeno en nombre de Dios: ¡Cese la represión…! 

 

JASMINE VO: It’s the last homily he ever gave. 

The very next day — before Oscar could give communion —  he was shot in the heart.  Murdered at his own pulpit. 

But Oscar was just the beginning of a Domino effect. One that brought us to the “New” El Salvador we have today. 

 

TAPE: El Salvador’s president Nayib Bukele has won re-election today in a resounding victory that has essentially wiped out the opposition. 

 

JASMINE VO: Over the next 11 episodes, we’re going to cover one of the bloodiest chapters of history.  One that includes government cover ups… 

 

Cynthia Glaavic: It was just outrageous that the nuns would have guns and would have exchanged fire. 

 

JASMINE VO: a school for dictators… 

 

TAPE: Every time there was a heinous killing in El Salvador, there was always somebody that was a past graduate of the School of America.

 

JASMINE VO: and one of the biggest massacres to ever occur in the Americas.  

 

ROBERT WHITE, former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador: The security forces in El Salvador have been responsible for the deaths of thousands and thousands of young people. Are we really going to send military advisors in there to be part of that type of machinery?

 

JASMINE VO: But I’ll also tell you the story of one family. Mine. Because on this journey, I discovered things about my family that still haunt us today. 

 

Jasmine: Mom, what happened to your sister Margarita? 

Mom: Well, they said that they took her. And the next day she was already dead. She was killed. She was killed. 

 

JASMINE VO: That’s this season on Nation of Saints. 

 

[CREDITS]

Sacred Scandal: Nation of Saints is a production of Aja Podcasts, in partnership with iHeart’s My Cultura Podcast Network and is hosted and written by me, Jasmine Romero.

Produced by me, Jasmine Romero, with help from Jorge Just, Reynolds Gutierrez, and Alvaro Cespedes

Research and reporting by Jasmine Romero.

Edited by Sayre Quevedo, Jorge Just and Rose Reid.

Nation of Saints was recorded in New York City at the Relic Room with engineering by Sam Bair 

Mixing and Sound design by Pachi Quinonez

Original music by Golden Mindz (Darko & AEME) based on Patrick Hart’s original composition.  

Fact Checking by Erendira Aquino Ayala 

Executive producers are Carmen Graterol, Isaac Lee, Rose Reid, and Nando Vila.

Our executive producers at iHeart are Gisselle Bances and Arlene Santana.

Sacred Scandal was created by Melanie Bartley and Paula Barros.

Special thanks to: Roberto Valencia, Matt Eisenbrant, Saidu Tijan Thomas, Alice Wilder, Sophia Paliza Carre, Eric Mennel, Peter Bresnan, and Reema Khrais. 

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