Mari-Lea Gazzal has myriad interests including kayaking, swimming, fishing, four-wheeling, being very adventurous, singing and acting. And those are just a few. But what keeps her grounded is her faith, which she shares enthusiastically.
You appear to be quite the outdoors woman, going to your family’s camp on Otter Lake since you were a child. You love kayaking, swimming, fishing, four-wheeling, among others. What attracts you most to those activities?
I have always had a love for the outdoors because it’s so much fun and a big way for me to de stress. It allows me to appreciate the little things in life. I would rather spend two hours four-wheeling than two hours on my phone.
You describe yourself and being adventurous. What has been the most adventurous activity in which you have participated?
The most adventurous activity has been parasailing. They take you on a small boat in the middle of the ocean, attach you to a couple straps hooked onto a half parachute; as the boat speeds up you shoot up in the air and ride around in the air behind the boat. There were such beautiful views of the ocean and this was such a great and fun memory that I have with my mom and sister. Something that I would really love to do would be skydiving or motocross races, just because I think it would be cool and I love a good adrenaline rush.
Singing and acting also are passions. How did you learn to love those talents?
I have a very loud and big personality so it has always been a natural talent and hobby to sing and act.
You are part of the parish music ministry. You said singing in church “speaks to my soul.” Describe what that means.
Music has always been a big part of my life and I said it speaks to my soul because I am happiest when I am singing or listening to music. It just makes me happy and my soul happy.
You also are very involved in the parish, teaching eighth-graders in Faith Formation. How is your faith strengthened by teaching younger minds?
My faith is definitely strengthened by teaching younger minds because they give me a deeper, different and better understanding of how the young teens perceive Jesus and our ministry. I teach such great minds and I always say that you can learn anything from anyone no matter the age or experience.
A few years ago you were involved in Notre Dame Vision, where students travel to the University of Notre Dame to interact and share with other teens from across the country. How was that experience for you?
I loved being at Notre Dame Vision because I learned that faith brings people together from all around the world. I met people from Spain, China, Canada and California. It was such a positive and moving experience that I will remember forever
Many teenagers shy away from religion, but not you. How did you become such a faith-filled person at such a young age? Who have been the major influences in your faith life?
My cousin Christine Gray and Anne Elacqua. I have a major influences as well as my Me-Ma (my confirmation sponsor) and my parents. They never pushed faith on me — it just happen naturally. (I was baptized and receive communion because of my parents faith, but they always wanted me to never feel like it was a chore). It was never a chore for me; it was always a positive fun experience that I love and that my family supports.
How do you share your faith?
I’ve made lots of friends from going to church but also made friends at my school through talking about my faith. It’s very easy to start those conversations because the first thing I say is always something about music. Music brings people together, so when I say I sing at church people always seem to just join in on the conversation or ask questions.
You describe church as “the one place I feel so safe and happy in.” Please explain what you mean by that.
Church has always been a way for me to de stress, and when my life was very dark and negative, praying was something that was a positive thing, never something that felt judgmental, I just felt happy there. It’s hard to describe, but having gone through some dark times, praying made me feel safe and not alone.
Leading by example seems to be in your DNA as you encourage younger people to get involved in the parish. Why is that important to you?
I have always been a leader never a follower. I just have always had my own vision for what I want and what I need in life. Church is just a priority to me and sharing my faith just comes naturally. It’s very easy for me to have conversations about people’s beliefs and what they value. I don’t really realize how young I am compared to some other people that share their faith in our parish. I love having conversations with people my age and younger, especially about faith because I think everyone has their own perspective.
What do you hope the future holds?
I hope to continue teaching religion and singing because it strengthens my faith and allows me to share mine with others. Plans that I have outside of church are to go to college, travel around the world, try tons of new foods, explore and find new hobbies, make lots of friends, and I pray that one day I have my own family.
Education: Senior at New Hartford Senior High School.
Interests: Kayaking, swimming, fishing, four- wheeling, being very adventurous, singing and acting.
Favorite movie: “Dear John.”
Favorite TV show: “Shark Tank.”
Favorite musical genre: R&B.
Favorite quote: “Let all that you do be done in love.” (I Corinthians 16:14)