ROME – Peru’s new president, Pedro Castillo, was sworn in on Wednesday in the presence of an envoy from the White House and several Latin American leaders. The ceremony coincided with the bicentennial of Peruvian Independence from Spain, who sent the king as representative.

A former rural schoolteacher, this left-wing politician vowed to govern “for the people and with the people,” but he will face deeply divided Congress. This is the first time in his life that the 51-year-old union leader holds public office.

During his inaugural speech, he promised to make sweeping changes to the country, paid homage to Peru’s indigenous people and teachers and vowed to combat corruption, rein in monopolies and boost public spending on education and health.

There have also been rumors of his intention to expropriate major private companies, which he’s denied, though he has promised a new Constitution.

He condemned the three centuries of Spanish influence in Peru, arguing that the crown had exploited “the minerals that sustained the development of Europe, in large part with the labor of many of our grandparents.”

“This country is founded on the sweat of my ancestors. The story of this silenced Peru is also my story,” he said.

Though he’s described himself as a Catholic and a devotee of a the Virgin Mary, his party, Peru Libre, is Marxist. During the campaign, several bishops spoke up saying that the local Catholic Church did not support him – nor his opponent, Keiko Fujimori – primarily because Church leaders are not to get involved in partisan politics, but also because Marxism is an atheist ideology. This was, for instance, the stance of Archbishop Javier del Río Alba of Arequipa.

On Wednesday, as he led the Te Deum on the anniversary of the country’s independence, the prelate said that the Church will support the government of Castillo as long as his project is in favor of the common good of the population.

He also denied having rejected the candidacy of the new president, but during his homily reiterated his disagreement with the “Marxist-Leninist and therefore atheist” ideology of Castillo’s party.

Marking the 200-year anniversary of the country, celebrated July 28 and 29, several Catholic bishops released statements or appeals, and made politically loaded comments during their homilies.

Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte, Archbishop of Trujillo and President of the Peruvian bishops’ conference, released a video titled “All united for Peru” inviting the people to share “the joy of being the heirs to a great history and, at the same time, some of the most pressing challenges we face today.”

The prelate began by making a call to “firmly defend the democratic institutions of our beloved Peru, in order to build peace and integral human development, rejecting all forms of violence, wherever it comes from.”

The past that has bloodied the country, he argued, has left many wounds that have not yet healed, and for this reason he released an invitation to fellow Peruvians to commit to reconciliation and social friendship among all, following the call of Pope Francis in his latest encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti.

“Let us renew our option for life and respect for the dignity of people, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, considering as a priority the attention and reparation to entire families that continue to suffer the effects of the pandemic,” Cabrejos said.

“Let us build and not destroy our beloved country,” he said. “As we commemorate the bicentenary of our Independence let us seek a new beginning that includes everyone, so that no one is left out.”

Speaking in the name of all the bishops, Cabrejos noted that the Peruvian Church was present at the birth of the Republic, and reaffirmed the willingness of all Catholics to continue working fraternally, with active listening, in dialogue with all social sectors, always respecting the dignity and rights of each person, especially women and children.

He also invited the people of Peru to care for the country’s biodiversity, particularly the Amazon region, and the linguistic wealth of the native peoples, “with care and responsibility, always thinking of the present and new generations.”

Archbishop Carlos Castillo of Lima, Peru’s capital, also led a Te Deum on Wednesday, and he too spoke of democracy, the common good, and expressed his solidarity with all those who’ve lost a loved one during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The sense of solidarity of faith invites us to an enormous social and political creativity, beyond ideologies and party programs,” he said. “We must be attentive to reality, and help solve problems through the contribution of all, seeking the most just and timely solutions.”

“Faith also invites us to understand with lucidity that complex process of realizing, little by little, a homeland of solidarity, widening democracy in a participatory way, characterized by listening to the clamor of the provinces and regions,” he said.

“In the next five years of the new political regime, all of us in a position of authority are all called upon to do everything in our power to strengthen Peru’s economy and democracy, health and education,” he said. “Let us overcome bipolar confrontational divisions where trust disappears, let us dispose our wills to face the concrete social reality through dialogue. It demands unity in the face of adversity, the broadest possible points of agreement – even if provisional – regarding the great national problems.”

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