French President Francois Hollande is visiting Pope Francis for a special audience after a spate of Islamic extremist attacks over recent months left more than 200 dead, including an elderly French priest.

Hollande visited the French church in Rome's historic center on Wednesday before heading to the Vatican for the private audience.

Hollande had called Francis last month to express his solidarity after Islamic extremists attacked a Normandy church during Mass and slit the throat of the priest, the Rev. Jacques Hamel. Hollande pledged to protect French churches and said that "When a priest is attacked, it is all of France that has been hurt."

The Vatican condemned the attack as "absurd" and "barbaric" though Francis subsequently declined to label Islam as a whole as "terrorist."