Janaki became a member of a Youth Club formed by EKATA Foundation. Photo: Richard Wainwright/Caritas Australia

Preferential Option for the Poor


Teacher introduction

By the end of this unit, students will have explored the concept of fair sharing of the world’s resources and current understandings of justice; investigated God’s dream for a just world; and reflected on ways they can follow Jesus’ example in caring for the poor.

A note on talking about “the poor”: At Caritas Australia, we aim to communicate in an inspiring and respectful tone. Much of the messaging that exists about international aid and development encourages us to see ‘poor people’ as different to us, rather than recognising that it’s the unjust circumstances that people are in that are different. We want to steer away from perpetuating the construct of ‘them and us’ and turn it into a construct of ‘we’. While we are talking about people in difficult situations, it is important to emphasise human dignity and people’s strengths, their resilience and perseverance. It can be challenging to communicate such nuances to a younger audience, so at this level, we suggest starting to use language such as ‘‘people experiencing poverty’ rather than ‘the poor’, so as not to reduce people to the conditions they may be experiencing at the time.

Teachers, before you start:                

  1. Watch the CST ‘Preferential Option for the Poor’ film and familiarise yourself with the pause points.
  2. Download the various resources referenced (worksheets, slides, etc.) and have them ready to go on your computer/interactive whiteboard.
  3. Locate the Scriptures and copies of Church texts.
  4. Familiarise and decide on the use of online or app technologies.

Learn - Focus

Explore the concept of fair sharing through personal experiences.

ALL years
Caritas Australia’s ‘Preferential Option for the Poor’ film. Display the poster in the classroom so that it is visible throughout the module.

Split students into small groups before watching the film. At each ‘pause point’, pause the film and ask the groups to respond, first within the group and then nominate one representative to report back to the class as a whole.

Teacher note: You will need to provide 100 counters, or other (e.g. beans, tiles, etc.), to each group for one of the activities.

Years 7-8
When the film is finished, display the question ‘What’s your response?’ (Slide 2).Invite a deeper discussion around this question. This could be completed individually or as a class on paper, for example in groups of four using the Placemat proforma to consider personal opinions on a question or issue and then discussing and recording a group response in the centre space; you could also use a multimedia tool such as Twister (fake Twitter) to have a virtual class discussion (click here to see an example) or use a tool such as Wordfoto or Tagxedo to turn everyone’s one-word responses into a work of art to be displayed in the classroom.

Years 9-10
Watch/read The Hunger Games. Students complete the worksheet individually then discuss their answers in groups.

Teacher note: This is optional – does not need to be done for following part of the extension activity to be completed.

Display the ‘State of the World’ slides (slides 3-6). Split the class into five groups, and give each group one statistic to display visually and present back to the class. Encourage the groups to be as creative as they like! Online interactive poster tools such as Glogster could be used to bring the presentation to life. (NB: students will need to create an account – they can use their Facebook accounts).

Questions for further discussion:

  • How are the ‘odds stacked in the favour’ of the rich in our world?
  • How does this make you feel?
  • Why do you think the world is not just and fair?
  • What would be a fair distribution of resources?

ALL years
Introduce the inquiry:
 As a class we are going to explore what a just and fair world would look like.

Learn - Explore

Explore current understandings of justice.

Years 7-8
In groups, students look up the words ‘preferential’ and ‘poor’ to find their meanings and associations with other words and concepts. Students can use the online dictionary Visuwords to explore the meanings and then produce a diagram reminiscent of a neural net.

What is God’s dream for a just and fair world? Students suggest ways in which God's dream has been shared or communicated with humans, and what this vision looks like. Students are explicitly taught that prophets in Old Testament were persons who conveyed God's message (dream for the world). Students conduct a Bible search to see where the books of Prophets are found and identify what aspect of justice a chosen prophet wrote about.

Years 9-10
In groups, students investigate Scripture and Church teaching references to the concern for the poor. (E.g   Acts 6: 8, 13 -15, 7: 54 – 8:1, 9: 1-19, Amos 5:12, 8:4-7,  Deuteronomy 15:7-11, Ezekiel 16:49, Isaiah 10:1-2, Isaiah 58, James 2:1-4, 1 John 3:17-18, John 14:1, Luke 4:16-21, 7:18-23, 14:13, 18:18-23, Matthew 6:24, 19:16-21, 25:34-40,  Mark 10:17-21, Zechariah 7:9-12; Church texts: Pope John Paul II (1987) On Social Concern; Vatican II – Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World). 

Students could use the Vatican.va app to access the Church teachings, and online Bible portals such as BibleGateway for Scriptural references.

Questions for reflection

  • What do the Bible and our Church teachings teach us in relation to the poor?
  • What does Jesus say and do in relation to the poor, women and outcasts, gentiles, Samaritans and sinners – to the vulnerable and marginalised of society? 

Students write one sentence to describe their understanding of ‘preferential option for the poor’. For example: “We should work towards a more just and fair world where all people are treated with love and compassion and where everyone has a fair share of the world’s resources.”

Learn - Demonstrate

Investigate God’s dream for a just world – what is the preferential option for the poor?

Years 7-8
Read the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

Reflecting back on what they researched and found with regards the Biblical definition and meaning of ‘preferential option for the poor’ and God’s dream for a just and fair world, students brainstorm who the ‘blind, poor, captives, oppressed’ are in today’s society; they could use a multimedia brainstorming tool such as Bubbl.us. Encourage students to think of both local and global neighbours. 

Taking one local example and one global example from their list (or using the example of Maristely from the film), students use the ‘causes and consequences chart’ to investigate the causes and consequences of poverty and injustice for that person.

Question for reflection: What could be done to ‘end poverty, uphold dignity and promote justice’ for the two people chosen in their example?

Years 9-10
Split the class into four groups. Giving them one of the questions/statements below, ask them to research and then present their findings to the class. This could be done using an interactive tutorial tool such as Show Me or interactive poster tool such as Glogster.

  • Where in our communities, our nation, and in our world do we see those who are working with and for those in poverty and thus are a “light in the darkness”? Where do we see the need for more people to “open their hearts” to the poor and hungry?
  • Charity can feed the hungry for a day, but justice looks to the longer term and structural transformation. Discuss.
  • What kind of structures and systems — educational, medical, economic, social, political and/or legal—in our communities, our nation and our world need transforming so all may live in dignity and basic human security?
  • Where and how can we make our voices heard for those in poverty so we can play even a small part in the great work of justice that the Prophets called, and still call, the people of God to?

ALL years
Students use the ‘where we work’ map to research a Caritas Australia project from a different region to  Maristely/MDF (i.e. outside South America) that promotes and supports the mission to end poverty, promote justice and uphold dignity, and which demonstrates the preferential option for the poor.

Using the Caritas Programs Comparison worksheet students demonstrate how the chosen project and Maristely/MDF uphold the principle despite their different approaches, making links with the Scriptural and Church teachings on the CST principle.

Teacher note:  Depending on the year level you could break some of the questions down into separate sub points, or include ‘hints’.


Explore how we are all connected in the quest for justice for the poor.

ALL years
Introduce this section by explaining that when the pursuit of justice is linked with Jesus’ vision for living right and making life right with others, loving our global neighbours is non-negotiable. We are all part of one human family. As part of that family, we should be informed; pray intelligently; give money strategically; defend human rights and uphold the inherent dignity of all by working for the common good; and stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world by advocating for justice beyond our national borders. In this section, we will consider how we can live out the Catholic social teaching principle of the preferential option for the poor in our own lives.

Years 7-8
Explain to students that a “motto” is a “guiding principle” expressing “spirit or purpose” – it represents a core belief that helps shape our behaviour as we try to live up to the message it expresses.

Reflecting back on all they have learnt and produced, students design their own personal motto that demonstrates their commitment to the guiding principle of ‘preferential option for the poor’ and how they want to live it out in the next term/year ahead. What will they do to uphold this principle for all our neighbours?

Students present their motto in their chosen visual format, for instance using the interactive poster tool Glogster.

Students track their progress and reflection regarding their personal/class motto in a video.

Teacher note: This could also be conducted as a class (i.e. create a class motto rather than a personal motto).

Years 9-10
Students locate Caritas Australia’s mission statement, the school’s mission statement and seven other mission statements from a range of non-profits and businesses. Students compare and contrast these mission statements according to an understanding of the Catholic Social Teaching principle of the ‘preferential option for the poor’ and then use the Diamond Ranking system to classify the statements in order of most to least centred around the principle. Ask students to explain their chart.

Questions to consider

  • Does the mission statement have both a local and a global flavour when considering the most vulnerable and marginalised?
  • Are the poor at the centre?
  • Is the Scriptural basis for the concern for the poor outlined in the statement?


Reflect on ways to follow Jesus’ example in caring for the poor

Students complete pages 2-4 of the Caritas CST Reflection Journal.


Students write a class prayer demonstrating their commitment to the principle and to working towards a more just and fair world.