The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland has offered special St Patrick's Day greetings to the country's immigrants and emigrants.

Archbishop Eamon Martin asked for prayers for all displaced families and particularly for those caught up in what he termed the shocking refugee crisis in Europe. 

In a message from his diocese of Armagh, Archbishop Martin greeted immigrants and all other Irish people at home and abroad.

However, he warned that a small number are attempting to drag Ireland back to unrest and violence.

And he commended those from both nationalist and unionist communities who are strongly committed to building bridges towards lasting peace. 

The Catholic Primate of All Ireland said Ireland's Christian roots run deep, and that Irish homes and families are largely characterised by the Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity.

But he said today's Ireland faces many challenges - including poverty, homelessness and huge pressures on family life - which can easily lead to despair and hopelessness among many.

Like his predecessor, Patrick, the current Archbishop of Armagh called on Irish people to personally befriend Christ and to experience God's mercy. 

He said this would inspire them "to reach out in mercy and charity to those who are suffering and in need".

"As Irish people, we cannot think of Patrick - the captive, the slave in exile, the undocumented, the migrant - without acknowledging the enormous humanitarian and pastoral challenges facing growing numbers of people who find themselves displaced and without status in our world. 

"This is so shockingly exemplified by the refugee crisis here in Europe. I ask you to pray for refugees and for all displaced families at this time," Dr Martin said.

He said he wished to highlight in particular the plight of Irish emigrants throughout the world, noting that last year's Berkeley tragedies have triggered a special awareness of "the great work undertaken by Irish emigrant chaplaincies in the United States, Britain and Australia. 

"Inspired by the teaching of the Gospel, they provide essential pastoral outreach to many Irish people as they try to establish a foothold in a new society."