CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Dec. 14, 2011) -- Eight volunteers from the Camp Zama community made their annual Christmas visit to Koyama Fukusei Hospital in Gotemba City, Shizuoka Prefecture, on Saturday.

Koyama Fukusei Hospital is the oldest leprosy treatment facility in Japan, and was established in 1889 by Father Germain Testevide of the Paris Foreign Missions Society. At its peak, the hospital treated and cared for more than 80 patients. Today, that number has decreased to seven patients due to improvements in medical treatment, and the hospital is now open to the public as standard hospital and clinic.

Shortly after World War II, the Army and Navy began making visits to Koyama Fukusei to provide food and supplies. The chaplain and catholic group from Camp Zama has been maintaining a strong relationship with the hospital not only with their Christmas visits, but also throughout the year. This marks the 64th year of the partnership.

"To visit Gotemba, for me, is to carry on the tradition they tried right after World War II between military communities and this hospital," said Chaplain (Maj.) Paul Passamonti, U.S. Army Garrison Japan chaplain. "It is humanitarian help and gives help to the people, and is also an extension of what I do in my ministry to help other catholic organizations in whatever country I'm in."

The volunteer group met with the patients and hospital staff in a meeting room at the facility, where they gave a Christmas present to each patient and sang Christmas carols for them. They also donated food and supplies to the hospital.

"I've visited this place three times in the past, and I wanted to see them again," said Kathy Nakayama, assigned to Public Health Command Pacific."It was really good to see them and they always appreciate us coming. I loved singing in the halls of the hospital because even though the patients can't come out and see it, they hear it and they know they'e not alone."

After meeting with the patients, the group toured the hospital as they sang Christmas carols for people throughout the entire facility. At the end of the visit, the hospital staff took the group to the hospital museum, where they saw the 120-year history of the facility.

"Since the earthquake and tsunami, we spent a lot of time feeling sad this year," said Tokio Fujiwara, one of the patients. "But we are very thankful for the people from Camp Zama coming to the hospital with spirits of caring and kindness. We are happy, and we feel like Christmas is here."