Community members next to their fields in Gaza province, Mozambique. Photo: Emidio Josine

Preferential Option for the Poor


Teacher introduction

By the end of this unit, students will: 

  • develop a deep understanding of Preferential Option for the Poor as a principle of Catholic Social Teaching 
  • familiarise themselves with the ways in which Caritas Australia demonstrates preferential option for the poor through its work both in Australia and around the world 
  • apply their understanding of Preferential Option for the Poor by creating an action plan of how they will work towards demonstrating this Catholic Social Teaching in their local communities. 

This learning sequence has been created using the ‘See, Judge, Act’ model. This reflection–action process was first used by a Belgian Catholic priest, Joseph Cardijn (who later became a Cardinal) with Young Christian Workers prior to the first World War. This approach was also recommended in the 1961 encyclical letter written by Pope John XXIII called Mater et Magistra (Mother and Teacher). 


Teachers, before you start: 


Brainstorm (All Years) 

Pose the following questions to gauge your students’ understanding of poverty: 

  • What is poverty?  
  • What are some words or phrases that are associated with the term ‘poverty’? (examples can include injustice, lack of education, homelessness, no drinking water, corruption, inequality etc.)  

Tip: Use an online brainstorming tool such as Mentimeter, where students can use their own devices to add to the online whiteboard in real-time.  

Extension: Use the Poverty Quiz to test your students’ knowledge about poverty in our world. A Kahoot version is also available here. 

Watch (All Years) 

Watch the Preferential Option for the Poor film, stopping at each of the pause points. Ask students to write down their responses or complete it as a prior learning task at home. 

Discuss (All Years) 

  • The film begins by stating that we are “made in the image and likeness of God.” What does this mean? Ask students to write down the ways in which they are made in the image and likeness of God. You may wish to brainstorm some of the characteristics and traits of God as they appear through scripture.  
  • What does it mean to have preferential option for the poor? You may find this excerpt useful in your discussion:  

The needs of the poor take priority over the desires of the rich; the rights of workers over the maximization of profits; the preservation of the environment over uncontrolled industrial expansion; the production to meet social needs over production for military purposes.  
(United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, ‘Economic Justice for All’, no. 94) 

Unpacking the Sustainable Development Goals (Years 7–8) 

The Sustainable Development Goals are a set of 17 goals aimed at creating a peaceful and sustainable future for all. The first goal is ‘zero poverty’. Watch this clip, which will help you unpack the first sustainable development goal with your students. Ask students to write down what challenges exist in achieving the goal.  

Poverty Facts (Years 9–10) 

Provide each of your students with a copy of the Sustainable Development Goals and Poverty resource. This activity will require students to access the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals website and locate current facts and statistics about poverty in our world. They will then need to discuss the relationship that exists between achieving each of the goals and achieving zero poverty.  

The Causes of Poverty (All Years) 

Have students unpack the causes of poverty using the Root Causes of Poverty resource.  

Picturing Poverty (Years 7–8) 

Provide students with the link to view images by photographer Peter Menzel, showing families around the world with all of their possessions. Guide students to read the captions below, as they provide important context to the photographs. You may wish to start by looking at the photos together as a class. Ask the class to consider needs and wants of individuals, and what society deems we need to live a happy and full life.  

Pose the following activities and questions to your students: 

  • In your opinion, which of these families do you think are living in poverty? 
  • What were the factors you considered when deciding if a family was living in poverty or not? Refer to specific items or elements in the photographs. 
  • Is there any evidence that material possessions may not on their own create contentment? 
  • Have your own perceptions and understanding of poverty changed after viewing these images? 

Note: There are no right and wrong answers. These images are designed to challenge student thinking around the image and perception of poverty they may have.  

Poverty’s Causes and Effects (Years 9–10) 

Ask students to create a poster flow chart that demonstrates the relationship between the causes of poverty and their potential effects. Challenge them to look beyond the effects on an individual and consider social, economic and global effects. Students can use an online mind-mapping tool such as Bubbl.us 

Education Board Game (All Years) 

Students can play this boardgame to draw the links between education and poverty.  


Poverty and The Good Samaritan (Years 7–8) 

What underpins Catholic teaching about the preferential option for the poor?  

Refer students to the film, specifically where it references the parable of The Good Samaritan, along with the pause point questions.  

Using the Poverty and The Good Samaritan resource, have students unpack the key teachings within the parable of the Good Samaritan. Students will explore the historical context of the characters and think about what barriers they might face when they encounter a person in need.   

In the Bible (Years 9–10) 

Almost all Catholic teachings, beliefs, rituals and practices are underpinned by scripture. We can learn about the importance of the preferential option for the poor in the Bible, both within the Old Testament and through the story of Jesus’ life and ministry, which we read about in the Gospels.  

Search for and read the Bible passages listed below. Explain how you think they relate to the concept of showing preferential option for the poor. 

  • Deuteronomy 15:7-11 
  • James 2:1-4 
  • Zechariah 7:9-12 
  • Proverbs 31:8-9 
  • 1 John 3:17-18 
  • Luke 4:16-21 
  • Luke 14:13-14 
  • Matthew 6:24 
  • Matthew 25:34-40 


Creative Task (All Years) 

Refer students to the film where it highlights the link between climate justice and poverty. Ask them to reflect on this quote in Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’: 

"we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor." (Laudato Si’ n49)  

Discuss why the church places great emphasis on the link between the two.  

Have students create an artwork that depicts this relationship in a creative way. An example of this could be a picture of a tree that is providing food for a community on one side but is being burnt on the other side due to bushfires caused by rising global temperatures. 

You may wish to refer students back to the previous task that unpacks the causes of poverty.  

Encyclicals Activity: How has poverty changed over time? (All Years) 

In Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti, he unpacks the definition of poverty and explains how as our world has evolved economically, socially and technologically, so too has the concept of ‘poverty’.  

Display, read or paraphrase the following quote for your students: 

Some economic rules have proved effective for growth, but not for integral human development. Wealth has increased, but together with inequality, with the result that “new forms of poverty are emerging”. The claim that the modern world has reduced poverty is made by measuring poverty with criteria from the past that do not correspond to present-day realities. In other times, for example, lack of access to electric energy was not considered a sign of poverty, nor was it a source of hardship. Poverty must always be understood and gauged in the context of the actual opportunities available in each concrete historical period. (Fratelli Tutti n21) 

Ask students to consider what poverty might have looked like throughout history. Pose this question: has the definition of poverty always been the same throughout history, or has it changed over time? 

Ask students to research photographs/artistic depictions of poverty throughout history.  Ask them to compare these to what poverty looks like today, placing their findings in either a table or Venn diagram. You might want to place students into groups and assign each group a decade to focus on. They can then present their findings to the class. 

The Interconnections Game (All Years) 

This activity calls for students to make connections between their own lives and other people’s experiences of poverty. It highlights the way in which everyday actions and circumstances have connections and impacts beyond what we can immediately see. 


Strengths-based Approach (All Years) 

Refer students to the film, which focuses on the work of Caritas Australia. It mentions that Caritas Australia follows a strengths-based approach. The approach starts with “what people have” and builds on this. It ensures that communities design their own development and are less reliant on external ‘experts’. Discuss this question: what do you see as the benefits of a strengths-based approach?  

Tip: Think about other principles of Catholic Social Teaching and sustainability.   

Caritas Australia in Action (All Years) 

Provide students with a copy of the Google Tour link. With the help of Google Earth, this activity will take students around the world to see how Caritas Australia works with communities to end poverty, uphold dignity and promote justice. Students will watch case study videos and answer accompanying questions.  

Action Matrix (All Years) 

Provide students with a copy of the Activity Matrix and ask them to choose which activity/activities they would like to work on. The activities are centred on ways in which they can live out the Catholic Social Teaching of preferential option for the poor.  


Conclude this learning sequence in prayer by using the Sustainable Development Goals Prayer Service resource.