Australian schoolchildren. Photo: Nicole Clements/Caritas Australia

Subsidiarity and Participation

Upper Primary

How do we contribute to a more just and fair world?

Teacher introduction

By the end of this unit, students will have investigated decision making structures and possible consequences of decisions on self, others and the environment; considered how Christian decision making involves reflecting on the teaching of Jesus, and illustrated their thinking around issues of government and citizenship.

Teachers, before you start:

  1. Watch the CST ‘Subsidiarity and Participation’ film and familiarise yourself with the Lower Primary cartoon (found within the Learning Experience below).
  2. Download the various resources referenced at the bottom of this page (worksheets, slides, etc.) and have them ready to go on your computer/interactive whiteboard.
  3. Locate any Scriptures and copies of church texts (all hyperlinked within the Learning Experience below).
  4. Familiarise and decide on the use of online or app technologies.

Students explore decision making structures and possible consequences of decisions on self, other and environment. 

Discuss: What kind of people are pictured? Who is represented? Is anyone missing? Who makes decisions? Who gets a say? Does everyone get a say? How?

Notice the doors. Notice the height of the towerNotice how the decision makers are depicted. Consider access to the decision makers. Consider how decisions might be affected by the leaders being so high up and far away from the people. Who are the leaders working for?

Students consider how Christian decision making involves reflecting on the teaching of Jesus. 

Review the Brazil case study- Maristely’s story by reading the following excerpts (or select a student to read the excerpts!)

Maristely from Brazil

Families forced to leave the countryside to seek work in cities often have nowhere to live. many make their homes from cardboard on unused land. Maristely’s family had no electricity, water or sewerage. They had no legal documents to say they owned the land, so at any time they could be ordered to leave. People lived crammed together, with widespread poverty and few jobs.

Discuss: Where is the injustice here? What decisions might have created situations of injustice? 


As a young leader with MDF’s (Movement for the Defence of Favela Residents) Youth empowerment Program, Maristely works to promote peace, improve access to services like clean water and electricity and raise awareness of people’s rights and dignity. Leaders regularly visit families in the favelas to identify challenges and then work with the community to address these problems. They then talk to government about increasing access to basic services. Through MDF, Maristely’s family, along with thousands of others, now has access to clean water, electricity and sewerage, leading to better overall health. Her family also has a legal certificate of home ownership so they can no longer be evicted.

ConsiderHow might the tower look for the people in the favelas before they were able to make changes? How might it look with the changes?

Read Matthew 7:12 (Golden Rule)

Apply: What does this tell us? How could this have been applied in Brazil? What are two things that changed the situation?

Teacher’s Note: Emphasise that the principle of participation is illustrated by the community members being involved identifying and addressing problems. The principle of subsidiarity is demonstrated in the government listening and acting upon the consultation with the community. 

Students consider how Christian decision making involves reflecting on the teaching of the principles of subsidiarity and participation. 

Slogan vote

As a class, vote on one slogan from each list that best reflects these Catholic social teaching principles of subsidiarity and participation.

List 1- Subsidiarity

1. “Decision makers should visit communities and listen to the people who are affected by a problem”

2. “Decision makers should stay in their office and make decisions without talking to anyone”

3. “Decision makers should do whatever is easiest”

4. “Decision makers should only listen to the people who are the loudest”

List 2- Participation

1. “When I am asked to help out in the community I should just let the leaders or decision makers do it.”

2. “When I am asked what I think about a decision, I should think carefully and give my perspective.”

3. “When I am asked what I think about a decision, I should think carefully for my family and myself, but also for those who are less privileged than I am.”

As a class or in small groups, students summarise both slogans into 2-4 words. Students create poster with your new summarised slogan, alternatively you could use a ‘Virtual billboard.’

Share responses with class. 

Students illustrate their thinking around issues of government and citizenship. 

Redraw the Decision Makers tower. In groups, students draw how the tower editorial cartoon should look based on the principles explored.

Reconsider concepts such as access to the decision makers - the doors and height of the tower, how the decision makers are depicted and who else they might include such as women or different cultures.


Students complete a written or voice recorded reflection using one question or starter from the Reflection Toolkit. “Why is it important to join in the decision making community?’

Share this quote from Pope Francis

Students read and reflect silently on these words.

Students pray individually, for help to use their freedom or participate for the good of all.